West River Debates Route 34 Plan

Wednesday morning’s meeting of the West River Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) Coordinating Committee was short but to the point, focusing almost exclusively on a plan to redevelop the Route 34 corridor. The current draft, which includes expanded garage area, biomedical and retail space, and 500-600 new housing units, is the latest offering by consulting firm RKG Associates to the West River group, which throughout the past six months has voiced a number of concerns about the projected redevelopment.

The discussion was a heated one, moving from expressions of joy and gratitude to frustration and anger in a matter of minutes.

Acting Chairperson Joyce Poole(in photo) ran a tight meeting, giving members two- and one-minute warnings before calling the meeting officially to order. Although her intention was to move the group quickly from point to point, her agenda was interrupted by John Jones, who presented her with flowers and a show of gratitude for her work on the committee. “You’re a dynamo,” he announced, to enthusiastic applause from everyone present.

Poole, who as a self-described “taskmaster” does not usually like surprises, nevertheless took a few moments to acknowledge the fact that this was the last meeting over which she would preside. Reviewing the committee’s work over the past few months, she noted that the group had achieved 92 percent of its set objectives for revitalizing the neighborhood.

“Plans are living and breathing documents” representing the investments of everyone who contributes to their creation, she said.

Her statement took on added relevance later in the meeting when the committee heard updates on the plan for redeveloping Route 34. Although consultants and committee members alike acknowledged that a great deal of progress had been made, community discontent with some aspects of the plan was obvious. Jerry Poole specifically cited small business opportunities, truck traffic, and housing as concerns; other committee members worried that the plan was rapidly approaching completion without adequate input from the public. Wendy Clarke of the city’s Economic Development Department parried these concerns with evidence of how the space would be effectively used and repeated assertions that the plan’s development had taken community issues into consideration.

It was Joyce Poole, however, who just before leaving summed up what may be the community’s most basic, unspoken worry. “That’s a bad plan,” she said, pointing at the diagram unrolled over the middle of the table. She also indicated, however, that the West River Association had “had its bit of the apple” and after a certain point would either endorse the plan or not. In closing she expressed hope that common ground could be found. Wendy Clarke and Alderman Yusuf Shah agreed to schedule another public meeting that would hopefully bring the issue to a close.

Other issues discussed at the meeting included the ongoing construction of the new Barnard School facility, housing issues in the West River area, and maintenance concerns with West River Memorial park. Dave Reher described walking through the park and seeing tire prints curve around and stop at the edge of the river. “I’m assuming there’s a car in the water,” he said wryly. “That’s the kind of thing we want to avoid.”

The next meeting of the West River NRZ will be on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 8 a.m. in the first-floor board room of Saint Raphael’s Selina Lewis Building.

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