The North Brookline Neighborhood Association (NBNA) held a public meeting starting at 7 pm Wednesday, April 15, in the Sussman House community room at 50 Pleasant St., focused on improvements for the Coolidge Corner area. Founded in 1972, NBNA is now one of Brookline’s older neighborhood associations. By population it is the largest, serving an area between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and between Winchester and Amory Sts.
The NBNA meeting drew an audience of near 30, more than half of them town meeting members from Precincts 2, 3 and 7-11. After an introduction by Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, Kara Brewton, the economic development director in Brookline’s planning department, made a presentation and led discussion.
Waldo St.: Ms. Brewton described elements of what she called a “5-year plan” for Coolidge Corner improvements, mentioning a customer survey, gardening projects and interest in the future of the Waldo St. area. Waldo St. is a short, dead-end private way extending from Pleasant St. opposite Pelham Hall, the 8-story, 1920s, red brick apartment building at the corner of Beacon and Pleasant Sts.
Not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this particular meeting was the controversy several years ago when a would-be developer proposed to replace the now disused Waldo St. garage with a high-rise hotel. While a hotel might become a good neighbor and a significant source of town revenue, the garage property did not provide a safe site. Street access is constricted, and emergency vehicles might be blocked. Permits were not granted.
Also not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this meeting was current Waldo St. ownership, with the garage at the corner of Pleasant and John Sts. now in the hands of the owners of Hancock Village. They are involved in a protracted dispute with the Brookline Board of Selectmen, after applying to build a large, partly subsidized housing development, trying to override Brookline zoning using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws.
These matters were well known to nearly all present. By skirting them, Ms. Brewton signaled that she preferred to avoid frank discussion of local conflicts. Her presentation was being observed by a member of the Economic Development Advisory Board, for whom she provides staff support. That left a constrained but still sizable clear space for group discussion.
Survey: Ms. Brewton described a 2014 consumer survey in Coolidge Corner, coordinated by the Department of Planning and Community Development. She said the survey had tallied “a few thousand responses,” that it showed who visits the area for what purposes, that a little over half of the respondents lived in Brookline and that their most frequent activity was buying food.
Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, asked whether the survey had investigated lack of parking. Ms. Brewton said, “Customers find it hard to find parking.” She said the survey found about a third of respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and those who did tended to spend more money in the shops.
Ms. Brewton said that current priorities for her division, informed by the customer survey, were focused on three concerns: (1) the mix of business, (2) the public spaces and (3) parking. Asked what she meant by “the mix of business,” she mentioned that there was currently no “ordinary clothing store.” It was not obvious what that meant either, since The Gap has a Coolidge Corner location and several other shops also sell clothing.
Coolidge Corner has lacked a full-service clothing store since the former, 3-story Brown’s, at the corner of Harvard and Green Sts., burned in the 1960s. McDonald’s took over the property, building a one-story shop with distinctive arch windows that became a prototype for the company’s urban expansion. With McDonald’s gone since 2007, the shop with arch windows has been subdivided into spaces occupied by a pizza parlor and a branch bank.
A report from the survey contractor, FinePoint Associates of Brookline, is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site. According to that report, the survey tallied 1,740 responses. Data in the report indicate 29 percent of all respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and 62 percent of all respondents rated parking “average” or better. The report says, “Customers who walked or biked to Coolidge Corner were more likely to be very frequent customers (coming twice per week or more) than [other] customers.” [p. 10]
Parking: Ms. Brewton described plans underway to “improve” Coolidge Corner parking. The two lots on Centre St., she said, “are in bad shape,” with no major maintenance since 1965. That was when Brookline took property by eminent domain and tore down structures to build and enlarge current parking lots located off Centre, Babcock, John and Fuller Sts. David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, mentioned efforts to develop solar power canopies for the Centre St lots.
Her department, Ms. Brewton said, is “trying to get $100,000 for planning” parking improvements. However, alternatives for Centre St. parking lots have already been planned. A comprehensive study was performed for the planning department in 2007 by Traffic Solutions of Boston. An illustrated report is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site.
While she left an impression of some future fund-raising, what Ms. Brewton was talking about turned out to be Item 6 in Article 8 on the warrant for the 2015 annual town meeting, starting May 26. She showed a drawing of what she called a “parking deck” over the northwesterly three-quarters of the large Centre St. parking lot. That currently has five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled parking spaces each.
In the town meeting warrant, the department’s intents are vague, but they are detailed in the FY2016 Financial Plan, where item 10 under the capital improvements section says the $100,000 may be used to design a “decked parking structure” with one to three levels. A “3-level parking deck” is what most people would typically call a “4-story garage.”
A 4-story parking garage would probably become the largest building in the block and the tallest except for the S.S. Pierce clock tower. It would likely be constructed as a wall of masonry along Centre St., a half block from the house at the corner of Shailer St. where Mr. Swartz and his wife live. It could swell public parking off Centre St. from a current total of about 200 spaces to 500 or more spaces.
It is not clear how the Centre St. parking project Ms. Brewton described reconciles with a “5-year plan” dated March 5, 2012, currently available from the Brookline municipal Web site. That plan does not call for any new or expanded parking facilities, nor does it call for a “planning” effort focused on parking. The only parking improvements it anticipates are described as “signage for cultural institutions & parking lots,” a $46,000 estimated cost.
Gardening: Participants at the NBNA meeting were eager to hear about plans for landscaping and gardening. Many felt the area had been neglected in recent years. Unfavorable comparisons were noted with some commercial areas in Boston and Somerville. Ms. Brewton plans to coordinate a “gardening event” from 8 to 10 am on Saturday, May 16. She can be contacted at 617-730-2468.
Some of the town’s attempts at improvements didn’t impress. Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, referred to structures in the small triangle at the intersection of Pleasant and Beacon Sts. as “the volcano,” saying it was easy to trip over masonry edging. Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, was concerned about maintenance of plantings.
Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, noted some shop or property owners had already set out flowers. She recalled daffodils near the Brookline Bank. Ms. Brewton said there were more near Pelham Hall. Mr. Swartz said lack of water faucets along the street could be a barrier to maintenance. There was mention of a water truck the town has sometimes provided.
Dr. Caro said results by neighbors with landscaping near the Coolidge Corner library were much improved after Public Works installed sprinklers. Carol Caro, also a Precinct 10 town meeting member, said she hoped for improvements to tree wells, mentioning a recently introduced protective material. Linda Olson Pehlke, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, expressed interest in working on the small park spaces along John St.
NBNA activists decided to focus on a small triangle at the northwest end of the large Centre St. parking lot. Currently, it is eroded and mostly barren. Ms. Brewton said she would see if Public Works could harrow and level the ground. Mr. Swartz agreed to coordinate NBNA efforts. Participants began making plans for mulching and planting.
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 19, 2015
FinePoint Associates (Brookline, MA), Coolidge Corner Consumer Survey, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2014 (3 MB)
Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Transportation Analysis for Coolidge Corner, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, March 22, 2007 (9 MB)
Item 6, Article 8, 2015 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, Town of Brookline, MA
Item 10, FY2016-2021 CIP Project Descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA
Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015
Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015
Irene Sege, In Brookline, McDonald’s was their kind of place, Boston Globe, February 3, 2007
Linda Olson Pehlke, Coolidge Corner’s future, Brookline Perspective, January 22, 2007