MASSterList | Does the BRA value community input?

MASSterList, December 4, 2015-- The agency claims to value community input, perhaps in the same way City Hall valued community input on Boston 2024, IndyCar Boston, and—more locally—turning residential parking spots in the North End over to Zipcar. We know how Boston 2024 ended, and we continue to watch as conversations unfold about the lack of public input sought from the city and Grand Prix for the IndyCar race. Now, go no further than the North End and the West End to hear from residents who feel unheard and disregarded by the supposed BRA “public process.”

In the North End, a proposal for a large-scale luxury hotel — the fourth largest luxury hotel in the city — has received overwhelming neighborhood opposition. Concerned citizens have banded together to establish a group, Save Our North End Waterfront, and have been organizing fellow neighbors, business owners, and community members in order to make their voices heard. Since July, Save Our North End Waterfront has collected over 1,100 signatures in opposition to the project. In recent weeks, all three local elected officials representing the North End and three At-Large City Councilors have come out opposed to the project.

Despite all of this local opposition, the BRA is continuing to aggressively move forward with the developer. In August, the BRA held an unprecedented Impact Advisory Group meeting to allow the developer to pitch the project prior to officially filing their detailed plans with the BRA. The BRA did not publicly announce this meeting to neighbors and residents, despite the agency’s supposed appreciation for community input. In fact, in advance of the meeting, the BRA project lead sent an email to IAG members stating, “We’d like to keep this conversation between the proponent and the IAG as much as possible.”

In the West End—just a short walk from Lewis Wharf— neighbors continue to vocally oppose the Garden Garage project. The proposed project was denied by the BRA in 2011; since then, the developer has presented some alternatives and most recently came back with a proposal that neighbors called “less than 20 feet shorter, but wider, more massive, with reduced open space.” Since 2011, three different letter campaigns have not been acknowledged or answered, and IAG members walked out of a recent meeting due to the BRA’s blatant indifference to community input.

The Garden Garage project and the proposed Lewis Wharf hotel have many things in common: the proposed projects are too massive, with a height and density inappropriate for the neighborhood; the developments would increase traffic in areas already burdened with gridlock; and the projects are moving forward despite the community’s litany of serious concerns.

Across Boston, projects get city approval despite community opposition: the Copley Place expansion, the Gate of Heaven School building condominiums in South Boston, the Harvard expansion in Allston, the Holy Trinity German Catholic Church-turned-luxury condominiums in the South End.

It’s a pattern — and it’s one that brings to light a question for Boston residents: For whom does the BRA work, developers or Bostonians? Be warned because eventually this question may come to your neighborhood, too.

Michael Malm is North End resident; John Nihen lives in the West End.