Community Celebrates Master Plan Victory, BPDA Still Focusing on Rutherford

The call for a Master Plan in Charlestown has been consistent and growing over the last several months, and this week, after a meeting with Mayor Martin Walsh and senior staff in the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), local organizers are claiming victory.

Amanda Zettel of the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS), and Julie Hall of the Charlestown Historical Society, both reported having a meeting with Mayor Walsh on Monday, and coming out with a promise for a community-driven master planning process for all of Charlestown.

Already, however, from BPDA statements, that victory might be eroding.

“Basically what we walked away with was the understanding that Charlestown needed a comprehensive Master Plan similar to what East Boston is going through now,” said Zettel. “The agreement was Charlestown actually has even more of a need for a comprehensive plan because we have more properties and a higher percentage of land available than East Boston. We would have the same community liaison as East Boston has for their planning process. We felt like we walked away with a huge win for Charlestown.”

Said Hall, “I think I walked away with a real understanding that the mayor has a lot on his plate and he is paying attention to us. We really felt the mayor is committed to this. We made it very clear this is the oldest neighborhood in Boston and the mother of Boston…We felt we got a real commitment from the mayor and the BPDA.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said he was glad to see the commitment by the mayor, and said he has supported a planning effort for many years in Charlestown. Both he and Councilor Lydia Edwards fully supported the community effort.

“This process will build upon the ongoing dialogue in our community regarding the impacts of future development on our square mile,” he said. “As I have stated before, the new BPDA has been proactive in engaging our community over the past several years. However, when large developments get proposed, even sometimes outside of our borders, the air gets sucked out of the positive planning role the BPDA plays. This renewed focus on Charlestown will allow us, as a community, to stay engaged all along rather than just when developers file their letter of intent. I thank the many residents and community leaders who pushed to make this a reality. I will do what I can to ensure that the State is involved throughout the process also; as there is plenty of jurisdictional overlay throughout the community.”

That said, nothing is easy when it comes to the Master Plan argument in Charlestown.

And, shortly after the celebration began, the BPDA issued a press release indicating their planning study would include Rutherford Avenue and the perimeter of the Town – which is essentially the exact same thing announced earlier this year that was rejected by the community and ignited the current momentum in calling for a comprehensive, Town-wide planning process.

It seemed shortly after everyone was celebrating the commitment, that the BPDA had changed that commitment.

BPDA officials said it wasn’t the case, and that they are committed to the planning process. However, they said some of the things the community wants to study – like schools – is outside their purview, and that the word ‘Master Plan’ being used is kind of a semantics argument.

Interim Planning Director Lauren Shurtleff said the term Master Plan might mean something different to the community than it does to the BPDA.

“The terminology the group uses comes down to semantics,” she said. “We had a productive conversation. The things they are looking to discuss in the planning study are some of the things we want to study through a strategic planning process.”

Mike Christopher, of the BPDA, said ‘Master Plan’ is a technical term, and it’s not something they actually do. A planning study might be something they can do, and perhaps that’s what the community is looking for. He said they would begin the process to learn just what it is the Town wants to look at, and how it is the BPDA can accommodate that.

“For us in the planning world, technically a ‘Master Plan’ has a different meaning in our world,” he said. “The important thing is we want to engage with the community in a planning process for Charlestown…The whole Master Plan is just a matter of us engaging the community in understanding how we’re going to work together on the future of Charlestown.”

Added Shurtleff, “Even if the planning process doesn’t include the boundaries of the entire neighborhood, we want to hear the voices from the entire neighborhood…We’re close, but it’s challenging. They want to use the term ‘Master Plan’ and we don’t do Master Plans…We really feel it’s very important to spend the next couple months listening to the neighborhood.”

For Zettel and Hall, they said they are taking the press release and the comments from the BPDA with a grain of salt, considering they have the full attention of Mayor Walsh. That, they said, was achieved by gathering more than 1,800 signatures on a petition, and getting letters of support from 22 Charlestown organizations. Those letters of support, Hall said, really got the attention of Walsh, whom she said read through them all during the meeting.

“We’re going to take that with a grain of salt because the agreement we got was a full, community-driven plan for all of Charlestown,” said Zettel.

“We were very clear to the mayor that a planning process for just the perimeter is just not going to fly and they agreed,” said Hall. “They fully agreed.”

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