Dorchester Avenue in South Boston is poised to become the next hot corner in Boston real estate. And city officials are plotting out what it might look like.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority is circulating sketches of what a stretch of the street lined by low-rise warehouses and staging yards would look like as a corridor of retail and apartment buildings, some as tall as 300 feet. There would be parks laced throughout, with better sidewalks and 12 blocks of new streets added in back toward the South Bay Rail Yard.
For now, the plans are preliminary, part of a neighborhood planning study the BRA has been running since summer.
“This is just to get people thinking about what this might mean,” said Lara Merida, a deputy director for community planning at the BRA. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
But the zoning plans are the clearest progress yet after months of community meetings to rezone the Dorchester Ave. corridor, the results of walking tours and workshops where residents piled poker chips on maps to show what they’d like to see where.
The plan would radically remake a three-quarter-mile-long, light industrial area north of the Andrew MBTA station into a walkable, transit-accessible hub of new housing, with green space and pleasant storefronts.
After more community feedback and study, BRA officials aim to approve the new zoning next spring. Full build-out could take 10 or 15 years. There will be more community feedback early next year, a market study to measure demand, and detailed study of utility lines and potential pollution underground.
But the change it envisions is already coming.
The smell of sawdust hangs in the air along what locals call Dot Ave. as workers build a four-story condo building near Andrew Square. A few blocks away, a real estate group has proposed an eight-building complex with 656 apartments where an old industrial laundry and a warehouse now stand. One of the developers involved in that project has bought two more properties in the area— about 10 acres in all —over the last year and a half. Other developers are circling, too.
Joseph Karas owns Karas & Karas Glass Co., which has supplied the giant windows used in many new buildings downtown, and owns several properties on Dorchester Avenue. He has worked in the neighborhood for decades, remembers going there as a kid, and knows it has come a long way. But he also worries about what will happen to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blue-collar jobs at businesses there.
“Development is good for this area. In some ways, I’m surprised it has taken so long,” said Karas, who’s received a few offers for his land. “But it’s on the city to find a way to help existing small businesses stay somewhere nearby.”
Some are already gone. In one building on Dorchester Avenue, a handwritten sign on the door says a staffing agency has moved to Chelsea. The constable office next door, which provides services such as delivering summons and restraining orders, relocated to Fields Corner. Up the street, an auto shop sold its building and is moving to Hyde Park.
“I think it’s inevitable,” said Robert Kiggen, who owns Smith’s Machine Shop, which has been on the street since relocating from the downtown waterfront in 1962. “They’re going to push everything here out eventually. It just gets pushed and pushed and pushed.”
Kiggen owns his building and employs about 20 people. He has no plans to move, but has watched neighbors leave and knows the place is going to change. “This street is light manufacturing,” he said. “They don’t want it that way any more.”
‘I think it’s inevitable. They’re going to push everything here out eventually.’Robert Kiggen, owner of Smith’s Machine Shop on Dorchester Avenue
Indeed, while the BRA is considering reserving some land in the area for “21st-Century Industrial,” there would be far less room for industry along Dorchester Avenue than is there now.
The bigger emphasis is on housing, especially for middle-income residents; open space; and street enhancements. Developers would be allowed taller buildings — as high as 300 feet closer to the railroad tracks or T stations — if they include more affordable housing or space for startups and cultural organizations.
The BRA took a similar approach when it rezoned Harrison Avenue and Albany Street in the South End in 2012, which paved the way for a stream of new development that is transforming another industrial neighborhood. Zoning incentives there have helped bring more affordable housing and neighborhood amenities.
“Three hundred feet seems high. But what we saw with Harrison-Albany was to get public benefits we had to allow building up to 200 feet,” said Prataap Patrose, a senior adviser for long-term planning at the BRA. “Here we may need more.”
For the South Boston area, the BRA would aim to keep the tallest buildings well back from Dorchester Avenue, closer to the railroad tracks and Southeast Expressway to the west. In the existing residential part of the neighborhood, east of Andrew Square along Preble Street, building heights would remain at 50 feet.
No matter where the housing goes, some in the area are happy to see more of it. Donata Tomasello has been the manager at Snippers pet salon for about 10 years. All the new residents coming to this corner of Southie have kept her shop quite busy, she said, as three dogs waited for a trim. She’d gladly welcome more.
“More apartments means more dogs,” Tomasello said. “And that means more business.”
This storyo has been updated to correct the name of a street in the neighborhood. It is Preble Street.