Chat with a Planner : Informal Discussion Quickly Becomes Formal Meeting

In the continued quest to define the planning process for Charlestown with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), the first of several informal ‘Chat with a Planner’ meetings took place Monday – and the large turnout of Charlestown residents quickly turned the gathering into a regular meeting.

BPDA Coordinator Jason Ruggiero and several BPDA employees were present for the meeting at the Charlestown Library Monday, and what was supposed to be a time to give feedback turned into a confrontation on boundaries and process.

“This meeting is to hear from you,” said Ruggiero in opening comments. “We don’t have anything shaped yet. It’s up to you to help us get there.”

That led into what has been a long-standing debate over the last several months about what the planning study – slated to start in January – will be called. The BPDA has said they are willing to look at and define the process with the community throughout the fall in these informal meetings. They have stopped short of calling the effort a Master Plan though, saying that the technical definition of a Master Plan is something they don’t have the capacity to do for a neighborhood.

Many in Charlestown want to hear the words “Master Plan,” though, and a good deal of them showed up to set the tone for the process.

“We have to define Charlestown as Charlestown – the Lost Village, the Navy Yard, the dock areas, all the way to the Somerville line, The Neck, the Bridge and even including that little piece that’s in Everett,” said Dan Jaffe. “This has to be about all of Charlestown.”

Betty Stump confronted Ruggiero to ask him if he had plans to pulled an “81D.” That is a statute in the Mass. General Laws that enables planning agencies in cities or towns to conduct overall master planning with the state.

Ruggiero explained that the current planning effort would not be an Institutional Master Plan or a Municipal Master Plan, but rather a planning effort focused on Charlestown in the same fashion as East Boston – a process he is also leading.

“We can call this Plan Charlestown,” he said. “We’re trying to set the boundaries of the study now.”

Some comments, however, stuck to the format and purpose of the meeting.

Doug Ross said he was concerned about the developments surrounding the Town engulfing the central part of the neighborhood.

“I understand preserving the core, but I don’t think we want another Bay Village here with a neighborhood surrounded by mountainous high rises,” he said.

Annette Tecce said the planning process should address infrastructure issues before anything else – including school capacity, water/sewer issues, fire protection and, of course, traffic.

“My concern is the first thing we’re talking about is development and not infrastructure,” she said. “We have challenges already going across the Bridge to get to the North End. We’re not talking about schools, water and sewer, and transportation – which is known. We’re only talking about the heights and density and I think we should be talking about infrastructure first.”

Such matters were critical steps in the East Boston plan, and Ruggiero said it could also be a big part of the Charlestown plan. He also said one key component would be to examine the existing zoning for the Town – listening to residents and planners about what is working and what is not.

He added that they are willing to take the show on the road, meeting with any organization or group that would like to give their input.

The next Chat with a Planner will take place at the Charlestown Library on Tuesday, Sept. 17, from 4-6 p.m.

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