BRA Won’t Expand Urban Renewal into Sullivan Sq

January 28, 2016
By

After a year-long planning process to approve a new, 10-year Urban Renewal Plan for 14 areas of Boston – including Charlestown’s large Urban Renewal Area (URA) – the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) indicated it will not expand Charlestown’s URA into Sullivan Square.

The Charlestown URA has existed for many decades, and includes almost all of the Town except for Sullivan Square. In a meeting at Charlestown High last summer, and in a somewhat surprising move, the BRA planners indicated they would like to expand the URA into Sullivan Square to plan a future course for the hotly debated traffic circle.

This week, however, after getting approval from the BRA Board last month for the citywide plan for the 14 areas, the BRA said it would not yet expand any boundaries in Charlestown.

“We’re currently not proposing to change the boundaries in any urban renewal areas as part of this extension process,” said Nick Martin, a spokesman for the BRA. “It is something we’re looking at as part of our two-year action plan that will be coming up. When we came out and talked about expanding to Sullivan Square, we understood we didn’t have the ability to expand or change the boundaries of areas right now because that is a whole other level of effort. We’re looking to include that public input and looking at potentially extending boundaries in the two-year action plan.”

The Board vote in December is the first vote in the long approval process.

Martin said they approved a 10-year extension of Urban Renewal, with the idea that input from the year-long community planning session would be addressed in the two-year action plan.

While many other areas of Boston had hoped to shrink boundaries, many Charlestown residents – it was reported last fall by the Patriot Bridge – had responded positively to the BRA expanding its reach in Charlestown to include Sullivan Square. That area is hotly contested now as development all around the Town sprouts up in the form of large office buildings, a major destination resort casino and hundreds of new housing units. The BRA hopes to be able to do some planning efforts of the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue areas as part of Urban Renewal at some point, it has said.

For now, though, they will stick to the current boundaries and purposes for the 10-year renewal.

That proposed plan is now before the Boston City Council for consideration.

A public working session on the plan will take place next Thursday, Feb. 4, with the Council at City Hall. That will precede a public hearing, which will come soon and will permit residents to speak on the plan.

Mayor Martin Walsh and his administration also must sign off on the plan.

After the Council and mayoral process, the plan will be submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for final approvals.

Urban renewal, according to the BRA, which today is used in a much more thoughtful and restrained manner than the heavy-handed approach of the 1960s and 1970s, helps to create affordable housing restrictions, promote and protect open space, and assemble parcels and clear title for development to allow projects to secure financing.

 

 

  • shirley_kressel

    This article was written using only input from the BRA, which continues to obfuscate the meaning of the Urban Renewal Plans and confuse people into fearing that without the extension of the URPlans they won’t get planning for the Sullivan Square area of the neighborhood. That’s totally false.

    First of all, the past year’s BRA effort has not been a “planning process to approve a new, 10-year Urban Renewal Plan for 14 areas of Boston.” It has been a Public Relations campaign to fool the public and the City Councilors into believing that the BRA should be allowed to hang on to the UR Plans — i.e., the UR powers — for another 10 years.

    These UR Plans, created decades ago, were intended to be limited in term to 40 years — and for good reason: they let a quasi-private authority wield government powers without accountability. The BRA wants to keep control over the remaining 16 big UR Plan Areas, which contain the city’s most valuable real estate and potential for windfall profits for developers. But 14 of these, having been extended already at least once, are now due to expire on April 30. The Mayor needs his BRA “Department of Dirty Tricks” to hang on to those powers there as long as possible. So the BRA director and staff are going around peddling their story that today’s “kinder, gentler BRA” must be allowed to keep its “tools of Urban Renewal” to do all the wonderful things only the BRA can do, lest Boston turn into a 1950’s backwater.

    Understand: The UR Plans are not about planning (the UR Plans are simply modified to suit whatever developers want); they are about power. As long as an area is legally under a UR Plan, the BRA has the right to do whatever it wants, to whomever it wants, for whomever it wants, and the citizens have no legal recourse. No recourse! Is this what the community wants? Another decade of “Nothing you can do about it!”?

    Under UR Plans, the BRA can declare any property (public or private) blighted, take it by eminent domain (without paying the taxpayers for public takings, as the mayor unilaterally waives compensation), erase the zoning, funnel it to the Mayor’s friends without competitive bidding, and keep the money from the sale or lease. As I said, there is no legal recourse — the BRA is, as it says, “bulletproof in court.” Is this what the community wants?

    If the UR Plans expire, as the law intends, the BRA remains the city’s “planning” agency, having stolen that power from the real Boston Planning Board in 1960 to make sure that planning will never get in any developer’s way. So if you want the BRA to do the Sullivan Square planning, don’t extend its UR powers. The BRA will do whatever you need at Sullivan Square anyway, as the planning agency.

    The only impact of letting the UR Plans expire will be that the UR neighborhoods will enjoy the same rule of law and public accountability as the other 90% of Boston. In other words, when the UR Plans expire, you will have democratic, accountable government again, like the 90% of the city free of Urban Renewal. The City of Boston has all the powers that the BRA touts as “the tools of Urban Renewal”– the only difference is that when the City exercises them, there is public accountability.

    The BRA can’t expand the boundary of the Charlestown UR Plan area — and it’s not just a “different level of effort” from an extension of the expiring Plan terms, which is what the BRA is frantically working on now. It is effectively creating a new UR Plan, and requires a major new legal process with City Council and state approval. They would have to document that the whole area is “blighted,” and create a “plan” to eliminate “blight.” The BRA owns no land in that area; it would have no money for eminent domain takings, which the Feds stopped funding in 1973 when the national Urban Renewal program was abandoned as a financial, social and political failure. In short, it’s basically impossible, as the BRA team has admitted at the public meetings when pressed. More important: As I said, it’s not necessary for what the community wants. You just want planning. Separate from being the Urban Renewal agency, the BRA is the city’s planning agency, and it will do any necessary planning as such.

    Finally, the BRA doesn’t “create affordable housing restrictions.” That’s done by the City’s Inclusionary Zoning Policy and applies to all projects, in or out of the Urban Renewal Plan areas. The BRA just writes the City’s requirements into the project documents, anywhere in the city, UR Plan Area or not. The doesn’t use UR Plan powers to promote and protect open space, and has one decades-old example to tout about its role in open space; the BRA’s role in open space today is to review the design in proposed development projects, or to trade away the community’s control over development by permitting unlawful projects in exchange for promises (which often don’t turn out exactly as expected) of open space as a “community benefit.” Taking land by eminent domain to assemble parcels is exactly what the destruction of the 60’s and 70’s was about; if a developer wants someone’s land, he should just go out and buy it for fair market value. Anyway, the City can do eminent domain takings, for any reason the BRA can, including title clearance in the rare cases where the owner is not known.

    The BRA is not thoughtful and restrained, it is not the “good BRA” now. It is still the Department of Dirty Tricks, cheating the citizens and taxpayers for the benefit of the mayor’s favored developers and enriching itself in the process so it doesn’t have to go the City Council for operating funds and thus be publicly accountable.

    Let the expiration law take effect on April 30, 2016. Your neighborhood, and the other UR Plan neighborhoods, deserves to have transparent, honest, accountable government, like the rest of Boston.

    Isn’t that what the community wants?