On June 8, the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB), co-chaired by Anne Meyers and Paul Saner, held a workshop to begin a conversation about defining criteria for successful long-term redevelopment of commercial districts.

The workshop focused on sites with areas around one half acre. Around 80 people attended the workshop, including the majority of our Selectmen, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and several members of the Advisory Committee. Other committees and groups invited included the Age Friendly Cities Committee, Arts Commission, Bicycle Advisory Committee, Board of Appeals, Board of Selectmen, Brookline Neighborhood Alliance, Chamber of Commerce, Climate Action Committee, Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee, Complete Streets Committee, Conservation Commission, Coolidge Corner Merchants Association, Housing Advisory Board, Local First, Neighborhood Conservation Districts, Parks and Recreation Commission, Planning Board, Preservation Commission, Public Transportation Advisory Committee, Transportation Board, Washington Square Association, Wellness in the Village, and all property owners in commercial districts.

Before the workshop portion of the evening began, EDAB co-chair Paul Saner set the table for the evening by giving the overflow crowd a workshop overview. Director of Planning for Brookline, Alison Steinfeld, then updated the group on the Town’s Strategic Asset Plan and Planning Analysis for Large Parcels.

Changes to Commercial Areas

Economic Development Director Kara Brewton spoke about recent changes and developments in the commercial areas. Brewton cited the long cycle from conception to execution of a commercial site, which in theory should take five to seven years but can run upwards of 15 years. She talked about the negative effects of poorly maintained commercial buildings, naming the route 9 eastbound at Cypress St as an example; and the lost opportunity when a business that doesn’t cater to retail traffic takes on a retail space, as is the case with a catering shop on Harvard Street in JFK Crossing.

Brewton talked about the evolution of three major redevelopment projects now underway. The old Red Cab location at 111 Boylston Street will become a Homeward Suites 130-room limited service hotel. 1-4 Brookline Place, which begins construction in the next year, will feature a new medical building while expanding the existing medical building and supporting garage. She also spoke about the Circle Cinema site at 375 Chestnut Hill Avenue, of which not much more than the front of the old cinema is in Brookline. Boston Redevelopment approved a 162-room Hilton Garden Inn and senior housing to go in this site, but there has been some area opposition.

EDAB co-chair, Anne Meyers and Brookline’s Economic Development Planner, Andy Martineau divided the attendees among 10-12 discussion tables. EDAB planners wisely made sure the discussion groups were integrated among all the boards represented so discussions could include multiple perspectives. Each group was then asked to examine one existing redevelopment site. The discussion was meant as an exercise to inspire group vision on how the Town should approach these redevelopment opportunities in the future.

The example used was 1180 Boylston Street, the site of the former Gulf Station, at the corner of Hammond and Route 9. A private developer recently acquired the site. The developer’s proposal would include ground floor retail and restaurants, with medical offices above and 182 underground valet parking spaces.

Each group was given the existing zoning and parking for the site and asked to answer four questions aimed at identifying and addressing area problems and concerns, ideas to enhance resident and visitor experience, physical changes aimed at improving concept plan and listing important redevelopment criteria for projects moving forward.

Taking a Broader Approach

After the group discussion period ended, Meyers and Martineau wrote down the ideas from each group for a larger discussion on potential considerations for the site. The discussion was spirited; it was helpful to hear views from different perspectives and heartening to see how often everyone’s views intersected.

Martineau commented, “I think the EDAB team succeeded in translating an amorphous idea for a multi-board/commission meeting into a productive workshop. The participants were engaged and I hope encouraged by the prospect of taking a broader approach to looking at commercial redevelopment in town. Judging from the conversation that ensued, I think it’s clear that the interests represented at the meeting are not as disparate as one might think. I hope to continue the conversation as we look to further refine criteria for successful redevelopments as well as establish a process for achieving those goals.”

I attended only a portion of this meeting, but was struck with the breadth and diversity (on many levels) of the participants. It is clear to me that economic development (or redevelopment) in a community as densely populated and politically engaged as Brookline is a challenge. In order to meet this challenge it requires widespread input and buy-in. Thus, I commend EDAB and its staff for developing a framework for this public process.”
— Town Administrator Mel Kleckner

Considerations presented by the EDAB workshop discussion groups included:

  • Site should be walking friendly.
  • Negative impact on residential neighbors minimized.
  • Mixed use preferable.
  • Adequate street lights.
  • Efficiency of housing design.
  • Efficiency of transportation.
  • Make sure we are building with future needs in mind.
  • Do we need another medical office building?
  • Would a boutique hotel work in this location?
  • Should parking and zoning requirements be adjusted for this site?

We applaud the Economic Development Advisory Board and the Planning and Community Development Department for a well conceived, well executed, productive and forward thinking evening.

—By R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher