By Jordan Frias
The extension of the 14 urban renewal districts was approved by the City Council for a six year period on Wednesday, March 23, as proposed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).
The BRA was originally seeking a 10 year extension that would have allowed the 14 urban renewal plans to expire on April 30, 2026. Now, the plans are set to expire on April 30, 2022.
City Councilors Ayanna Pressley, Josh Zakim and Tito Jackson voted against the proposal.
Urban renewal allows the BRA to take eminent domain and clear land titles within the urban renewal districts, which include the South End, Bay Village, Fenway and Park Plaza.
Council President Michelle Wu said she was not originally convinced that an extension was needed, but has seen the benefits of urban renewal and the BRA’s willingness to work with the Council by releasing information on its budget and its staffing.
“Most of all I trust this Council’s ability to monitor that,” she said prior to voting.
Councilor Bill Linehan cited the BRA’s two-year action plan as something that “addresses neighborhood and councilor’s concerns” in regards to urban renewal.
The plan will allow for the digitalization of all BRA-owned landing and previously owned land, including several hundred land disposition agreements (LDAs) within the urban renewal zones. The BRA was criticized for not knowing how many LDAs would be affected by the termination of urban renewal, a point Councilor Tito Jackson made reference to during his testimony.
“This is an amendment on time, not on scope,” Jackson told his colleagues. “I don’t believe that the fate of the City’s development is bottled up in urban renewal since 90 percent of Boston is not in an urban renewal zone.”
Jackson then commented on the yearlong outreach process by the BRA as a campaign that did not essentially take into account the concerns of his constituents.
“Meetings and outreach don’t mean engagement,” Jackson said, “and I went to those meetings and the responses I heard emphatically were a ‘no’ from neighborhood associations across my district.”
He continued, “this body legally has no real legislative power or oversite of this agency, which does not have to present a budget before the Boston City Council when every other department has a fiduciary responsibility to do so. That tells us something in terms of real power relative to the BRA and planning.”
“I think a lot of the issues that stem from the discussions are from the old BRA not the new BRA, which is why I’ll be voting in the affirmative,” Councilor Frank Baker said in defense of his vote.
He and Jackson agreed that many of the districts, including the South End, should ultimately expire over the six year extension. BRA Director Brian Golden has said in the past that the next urban renewal map will look “radically different” than the one that exists today.
Zakim, who gave no testimony at the meeting, has been firmly against any extension beyond two years. Pressley, who has called for urban renewal to include other areas of the city, like Mattapan, did not testify.