America runs on Dunkin’? Not in Highland Park, residents say.
Community members will meet Wednesday night to discuss their opposition to a city designation with plans to build a new Dunkin’ Donuts in the neighborhood, despite previous public feedback against the project.
Last year, the Department of Neighborhood Development called for proposals to renovate seven vacant lots near Bartlett and Washington Streets in Roxbury. In May, residents were invited to a community meeting to discuss the three final proposals for the Archer Bonell site, and left under the impression that their feedback would weigh into the final decision.
In August, they were shocked to learn that the department had partnered with Waldwin Development Group even after the community voiced many complaints against their proposal. The proposal included a four-story building with upper floor market rate apartments and two commercial spaces on the ground floor, one of which would be reserved for the Dunkin' Donuts.
“The opposition for this plan pretty much boils down to the idea that the city had asked us for engagement around input to shape who they would eventually pick,” said Rodney Singleton, the co-chair of the Highland Park Project Review Committee. “We did so and you can see that through the coUrbanize site. And overwhelmingly, if you look at those comments, you can see there are clear winners, and the folks that they chose were dead last.”
During the public comment period of the process, the DND asked residents to share their concerns through the coUrbanize portal on their website. Out of 22 responses, 12 individuals designated Mainline Development Group as their number one choice. None of the 22 responses were in favor of Waldwin Development, and four shared direct concerns with the company without picking an alternative.
In their proposal, Waldwin Development said they already granted one of the two commercial spaces to the new Dunkin’ Donuts, which will be owned and operated by The Waldwin Group themselves. The development company said their plan would provide many temporary construction jobs for local and minority employees, as well as around 75 permanent jobs in the area.
However, many residents are concerned with the idea of welcoming an unhealthy fast food franchise into a neighborhood with a strong emphasis on local business. Some noted that although the company is promising 75 new jobs, many of those will be through Dunkin’ Donuts, where employees will earn non-living wages. This is in stark contrast with the apartments above, which have estimated to go for roughly $2000 per month.
Many residents favored Mainline Development’s proposal, whose energy-efficient building would include 27 apartments ranging from one to three bedrooms — 13 of which would be reserved as affordable units. The proposal also included ground-level commercial space for local or new businesses with the possibility of office space for freelancers.
Bernard Mayo, who is listed as the DND’s project manager for the site, could not be reached for comment or clarification into the designation process.
“This is classic city of Boston,” Singleton said. “The decision is pretty much arbitrary.”
One resident used the coUrbanize portal to express their frustrations after Waldwin Development won the bid, questioning the impact of community input.
“What is the point of our feedback if not one person from the community supported the Waldwin project that was ultimately chosen?” the user, identified only as C Perrin, said. “How exactly does this forum serve our community??”
Kaidi Grant, a local activist and the co-founder of the John Eliot Square Neighborhood Association, has made it her mission to fight the project. Last week, she started a petition that has since gained over 100 online signatures and nearly 75 paper signatures against Waldwin Development’s proposal. Grant said she hopes to reach 500 signatures by Wednesday’s meeting.
Earlier last week Grant lined the fence surrounding the Archer Bonell site with chalkboard tape and invited residents to write what they’d like to see come in the area. By the next day, each piece of tape was full with ideas that contradicted the current bid.
“We are very pro-development,” she said. “We just want the right development. We’re opposed to having a low-end franchise that would not support our vision to see local business. We want to see art galleries and incubators… home working spaces… opportunities for the Roxbury stakeholder and residents. We need businesses that are able to lend a quality of life that is healthy and that would be dedicated to ensuring that Roxburians, generationally, can stay here. This particular designation did not have any due process with the neighborhood.”
Grant said that following the meeting, the community group will recommend the DND reconsider the proposal and exclude any fast food franchises from future bids. However, should the DND refuse, Grant said residents are ready to boycott and protest the decision, and will even seek legal action if necessary.
“We’re not playing around,” she said. “This is going to set the precedent for any future development within Highland Park. We will not move forward without the city standing by their guiding principles to be transparent and to listen to the desires of the neighborhood. And this will hopefully be a victory for Roxbury as a whole. That’s the goal here — how do residents change narrative and how do we respect the voice of the community.”
The John Eliot Square Neighborhood Association will host an information meeting about the project on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:00 p.m. at the B2 Area Police Station.