Friday, July 22, 2016

Planners, Pastor Aim to Advance East End Neighborhood

An East End neighborhood with long-held dreams of renewal could see a significant step next month.

The East Second Street Neighborhood Commercial District, now bounded by Johnston and Leland avenues, is on the verge of an "in need of redevelopment" study, with a Planning Board hearing on Aug. 18. But the neighborhood has changed so much lately that Planning Director Bill Nierstedt urged board members to go see the site in person before making the designation.

The neighborhood had been a mix of run-down buildings, viable businesses and homes when it was targeted in 2010 for $1.1 milllion in streetscape improvements. The plan, proposed under a previous administration, would have used Urban Enterprise Zone funds. Business owners and city officials held many meetings and gained camaraderie, but not results. Meanwhile, the state changed the UEZ funding program and recently one major building was demolished by developer Steve Cheung.

The "in need of redevelopment" study represents a different approach. Nierstedt said Thursday a draft report to the board was incomplete because assessments of each structure were still under review. Besides needing more input from board members on the state of buildings in the neighborhood, Nierstedt said the study area could be made smaller or perhaps extended to side streets.

In such a study, each building is rated on whether it meets any of the criteria for redevelopment. Nierstedt said homes in the target area are in good shape and commercial buildings vary in whether they meet criteria. If passed on Aug. 18, the board then forwards the "in need of redevelopment" study to the City Council, which can then order the board to create a redevelopment plan. If the council subsequently approves the plan, it could lead to a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement with a developer.

Rev. Paul Dean, a supporter of the neighborhhod's revitalization, attended Thursday's meeting and introduced himself as "project manager" of the East Second Street team. In 2014, Dean and a group of residents spoke out at a council meeting about their desire for positive change. He said Thursday the group has "done a lot of cleanup" in the neighborhood and is purchasing garbage cans.

"Last year was phenomenal and we will do it again," he said of the efforts.

In addition, he said he has also spoken with young men who hang out at a liquor store in the neighborhood and has helped them to get jobs.

"We're in progress to moving to a better place," he said.


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