If you live in the Parkway neighborhoods of Boston, you’ve probably seen lawn signs over the past few months: “STOP 361 BELGRADE.” More recently, you may have seen some signs saying “We support Roxbury Prep.” What’s all this about? Well, at 361 Belgrade Ave., at the intersection of Belgrade and the West Roxbury Parkway, close to the Bellevue station on the commuter rail’s Needham Line and to the West Roxbury police station and Holy Name, there’s a used car dealership that has seen better days. Roxbury Prep, an existing charter school that now has high school campuses in Hyde Park and Roxbury, has proposed building a new high school building on the site. There has been fierce opposition from a new neighborhood group called the Greater Belgrade Ave. Neighborhood Association. Things are likely to come to a head at a BDPA meeting this week; the public comment period on the project also will close in a couple of weeks. I live very close to the proposed site.
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I support the project. Here’s why.
- Zoning Concerns. The GBANA is asking residents to tell their representatives that the new building is not consistent with its location in the Greenbelt Overlay District and is not “in conformity with the existing neighborhood’s landscape.” I’m not a zoning lawyer or a zoning expert, but what I know is that right now the site is a run-down auto dealership in a commercial district. There has been a good amount of new development and redevelopment in the stretch of Belgrade Ave. from the Parkway heading towards Roslindale Square. The school’s initial plan was for a three or four story building, but the plans have since been modified to call for a two or three story school. And there’s another school right up the street at Holy Name. So I just don’t see how the new building will be inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood; it will be an improvement.
- Traffic and congestion. The school will be at a busy intersection. So yes, traffic is a concern. The school has modified its plan in light of community feedback to reduce the number of students and staff from more than 900 to just more than 600, and the school says that 90% of its students take public transportation to and from school. The commute for them will be a “reverse commute.” Perhaps rather than opposing the proposal, residents could seek additional trains on the Needham Line, or additional resident-sticker parking zones. But overall, I don’t see that traffic or transit will be problems.
- Charter Schools. I don’t really like charter schools as a general matter, and frankly Roxbury Prep seems somewhat mediocre, or at least not outstanding. But it already exists, and the question is just where it should have its building. So I don’t see my basic opposition to charter schools as a reason to oppose the project.
- Race. The elephant in the room is of course race. I take the GBANA’s assurance that its opposition has no racial element at face value. But there’s no getting around the fact that Roxbury Prep is 96.7% Black or Hispanic, with 72.6% of the students having “high needs” and 57.3% “economically disadvantaged.” And the opposition to the school is coming from West Roxbury and the “goes shopping on Centre Street, not Roslindale Square” part of Roslindale. So even granting that there are legitimate concerns about zoning, traffic, and so forth, can we not work with our fellow Bostonians to make this happen?
I’ll be sending a note on this to my representatives, and I hope you will too!