At first, it might seem like a ridiculous question. But as Readville residents told the prospective developer of 240 apartments across the Milton Street bridge from Readville station tonight, it begins to make sense if you actually try to commute from the station.
One woman, whose family goes back 100 years in the neighborhood, said she has been forced to drive downtown to work because the trains coming through Readville are so undependable - and often so crowded by the time they get to Readville that people on the platform cannot get on them. City Councilor Tim McCarthy, himself a lifelong Readvillite, said it's ridiculous that Readville is not in the T's 1A fare zone, which means riders there have to pay $6.25 to get downtown - compared to the $2.10 riders pay just down the line at Fairmount.
Developer Jan Steenbrugge has a purchase-and-sale agreement for the 2.7-acre parcel bounded by the bridge, Hyde Park Avenue and the Northeast Corridor train tracks. He told roughly 150 residents that the commuter-rail station is really the key to what he wants to do: Build apartments that would appeal to people who would rather take the train into work.
Steenbrugge agreed to hold the informal meeting - he has yet to file anything with the BRA - to get a sense of how residents felt. "We're very mindful of the fact that this is your neighborhood and not ours," his lawyer, Joe Hanley, told residents.
Residents told Steenbrugge they fell that if the train service is so bad, they will turn to their cars to commute - or, as McCarthy said, drive down to Fairmount station - which will only worsen the neighborhood's already horrendous traffic problems, which pretty much everybody in the auditorium agreed is the single biggest issue for the project. Steenbrugge, Hanley and his architect and transportation consultant readily agreed the traffic from Wolcott Square up past the Milton Street bridge sucks.
They proposed a variety of possible fixes, including traffic lights at either end of the bridge, replacing all the ancient traffic lights in Wolcott Square with newer, more efficient signals and making various "geometry" changes to several intersections, including the one at Industrial Drive and Milton Street. The project would also include new crosswalks in the area, which currently has none. And the land's current curb cut, near the bridge, would be moved down Hyde Park Avenue away from it.
Even after hearing that, skeptical residents were not buying it, noting Steenbrugge was initally proposing spaces for 400 cars. Residents said it already takes them ten minutes just to get from Wolcott Square to the Sprague Street bridge - a journey they could make in less time on foot, if only it were safe to do so, which it isn't.
One resident found it "disgusting" that the neighborhood has been complaining about the traffic problems for years and that the city has never done anything about them.
One Dedham resident complained the project would send more traffic into her town, which led to a mini-argument with McCarthy, who said somebody from Dedham is the last person to be talking about slopping traffic onto a neighboring community, given that Readville has to bear the brunt of traffic from industrial buildings on either side of the town line that Dedham won't let onto its roads.
McCarthy said he has not taken a position on the project, but cautioned that Readville residents - long isolated from the development pressures facing other parts of the city - need to realize that change is coming to their long sleepy neighborhood.
Hanley said that, of right, Steeenbrugge could put up an office building with "200,000 square feet of hipster space" on the property.
Architect David Chillinski showed preliminary plans with three main buildings and a five-deck parking garage - which would butt up against a neighboring industrial building, and serve as a buffer for residents. The buildings would rise as high as five stories, but he said that because the property slopes steeply down from Hyde Park Avenue, the buildings would not look that tall from the street. He added that the buildings would likely have special insulation and possibly triple-glazed windows on the railroad side to shield residents from the noise and vibrations of trains that can reach speeds of more than 100 m.p.h. as they pass by.
Hanley said most of the apartments would be rented at market rates - which he emphasized would be much lower in Readville than downtown, even though "quite frankly, it's a better neighborhood." Under BRA regulations, about 31 of the apartments would have to be rented at "affordable" rates to people making no more than 70% of the area's median household income.
Steenbrugge listens as Chillinski answers a resident's question: