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Opportunity knocks in Uphams Corner

A rendering shows the Indigo Block, a mixed-use development planned for East Cottage Street in Uphams Corner. Image courtesy Epsilon Associates, Inc.

A team led by Dorchester Bay EDC last week filed initial plans for a new mixed-use development that could unlock a new wave of economic growth along the Fairmount Line and in Uphams Corner in particular. The Indigo Block, as it’s being called, would fill a large void at 65 East Cottage St., next to the MBTA commuter rail stop.

The proposal includes 80 apartments, 8 townhouse condos, and a building for light industrial and office use. The redevelopment of the Maxwell site, which formerly housed a bread factory, would mark an important turning point in a section of the city that has been left behind for too long. If done correctly, it will likely spur further growth along the Fairmount corridor— including a longstanding, prominent blight right next door on Dudley Street.

The Maxwell property was seized by the city in 2011 for its owner’s failure to pay back taxes and was briefly considered as a new home for a municipal storage yard in the waning days of the Menino administration. But neighborhood activists and the Reporter raised an alarm over that possible use, which likely would have delayed the revitalization of this area indefinitely.

Instead, the late mayor wisely pulled back from the storage facility idea and put the site up for private bids through the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND). Under the Walsh administration, further work has made the site ready for re-use, including the demolition of the old warehouse buildings earlier this year.

In May, the three-member Public Facilities Commission voted unanimously to approve recommendations by DND to award the development rights to the EDC-led partnership. The vote came after a series of community meetings in the spring at which the Dorchester Bay plan for the Indigo Block emerged as the clear preference among neighbors and longtime stakeholders in Uphams Corner.

Now, with this new filing to the BRA, a second process will begin, a review of the specific contours of the Indigo plan. Among the details highlighted in the filing was important information about the mixed-income strategy that makes the Dorchester Bay EDC plan so appealing: The apartments will include approximately 22 one- bedroom, 48 two-bedroom, and 10 three-bedroom units. Approximately 44 units will be reserved for families making at, or less than, 60 percent of the area median income, another 10 units or so will be reserved for families between 61 percent and 80 percent of the median income figure, and approximately 26 units will be reserved for families between 81 percent and 110 percent of the income number. The eight townhouses, meanwhile, will be sold at market rates.

In addition to the housing component, a two-story, 24,000-square-foot industrial/commercial building will be built on the site in hopes of attracting small companies that will employ local people.

“Some categories of potential users include wholesale distributors, small manufacturing, food business, high-tech manufacturing, and general wholesale,” reads the BRA filing. “Second floor office users could include architects’ or contractors’ offices, small publishers or printing firms, or other light industrial users (i.e., artists and artisans) that do not need first floor spaces with loading dock connections.”

If all goes smoothly in the BRA process, construction work on the 123,400-square-foot development could begin in the first quarter of 2017.

Indigo Block represents a welcome opportunity to finally capitalize on the momentum built by previous investments in public infrastructure, especially the Fairmount Line. Its name — Indigo— is a reference to the activist neighbors who have, for decades now, sought to make the commuter rail line a catalyst for economic growth in underserved neighborhoods.

As it proceeds, we are particularly pleased to see the plan embrace the concept of mixed-income housing, since too often housing starts in the city have been aimed at the very rich or the extremely poor — with no in between. We hope that in this respect the Indigo Block plan will be advanced – and replicated throughout the city’s neighborhoods.