Second Chat with a Planner Gets down to Goals, Mission

Despite a crazy start to the second Chat with a Planner meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the bulk of the effort got down to the business of crafting the planning study that the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) intends to commence in January.

It’s probably never a good idea to suddenly change the location of a very controversial, and heavily attended, public meeting – particularly one that is to discuss the Master Plan process in Charlestown, an issue that has the community ginned up from City Square to The Neck.

But, on a whim, BPDA officials decided to take advantage of the beautiful afternoon to change the location to the piazza at the Bunker Hill Mall rather than in the community room at the library.

That infuriated an already infuriated group of about 100 residents that turned out at 4 p.m. to talk about the planning process.

It was a rocky start, but credit the BPDA for turning it around, and the community for taking charge of the situation to get down to the business of defining what the January planning process will entail.

“We are here to listen tonight to you,” said Jason Ruggiero, of the BPDA. “There is not yet a scope, a boundary or a framework. It’s your framework, your boundary and I’m here to listen.”

After a great deal of going around the room, resident Dan Jaffe rousted the troops to get some consensus.

Through a show of hands, virtually everyone in the room agreed that the boundaries should be the entirety of the Town – as defined by the City’s Charlestown neighborhood map. That was an important first step because the BPDA had said initially it would “plan the edges and protect the core.” Instead, the Town has asked that the entire neighborhood be part of one large plan.

With that out of the way, it was time to talk preferences.

A major concern was the lack of appreciation by the City and the BPDA for the extreme historic nature of Charlestown. That was spoken about by Don Hoska and Irene Kershaw.

“If we continue like we are with this development, it will change the whole character of one of the most historic places in the US,” said Kershaw. “I’m having a hard time understanding why there is this insensitivity to Charlestown and its historic nature.”

Dan Kovacevic stressed the importance of creating better and more commercial and retail areas. That has been an oft-cited problem in the Town, particularly in the Bunker Hill Street areas. He also wanted the plan to look at the Bunker Hill Mall and what it might look like commercially in the next 20 years.

Ken Flynn, who has long been at odds with the BPDA and its Urban Renewal efforts, said he would like to see the agency start to follow the mission and rules of the Plan. He said they often don’t do that, and one example is the restaurant/bakery recently leased at 40 Warren St. He said that goes against the Plan and many promises.

“I shouldn’t have to spend all of my pension as an older person to defend my property rights,” he said.

Annette Tecce asked that the BPDA put a moratorium on development of its land in Charlestown until the scandal at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is sorted out.

“I support a one-year moratorium for development on BPDA owned land while the ZBA investigation is taking place,” she said.

That is significant, of course, because a good deal of the Town – primarily the empty parking lots at Bunker Hill Community College – is owned by the BPDA and ripe for development in this real estate market.

A man who identified himself only as “Russell” wowed the crowd with a prepared statement that criticized the BPDA for not calling the effort a Master Plan and coming out to only listen.

“It reminds me of my church, where people were in a state of atrophy after they came out and the people felt like they were listened to,” he read. “Meanwhile, the leaders continued to gut the church…The future is bleak. The forces at work here are not to be trifled with.”

Another key concern was how the streets are laid out, and how unsafe they are for pedestrians. Residents said they would like to strike a balance between moving traffic along, but also slowing down vehicles along wide thoroughfares so that people can safety cross.

Ellen Kitzis said a major ask for her was to create some sort of protected district for all or part of Charlestown.

“I’d like to see part of Charlestown, or all of it would be nice, to be designated an historic district,” she said.

Another topic that came up several times was restoring the onramp to I-93 at City Square. That ramp existed for years, but was removed during the Central Artery project, and never returned. Several people in the audience called for that to be a priority in the plan.

A surprising and interesting issue that came up was making an ecological and walking/biking path on the old railroad tracks from Sullivan Square to the Navy Yard – opening up a clear path for residents off the streets and connecting them to the waterfront as well.

Other issues included:

•Addressing the need for more seats in the schools.

•Looking at water and sewer infrastructure.

•Finding designated places for dog parks in the Town.

•Addressing internal and external traffic.

•Water Transportation along the entire waterfront, from Schraffts to Lovejoy – including a ferry that leaves from the Locks to the Back Bay.

•Extending the billboard freeze to the entirety of the Charlestown/I-93 corridor, as it only now covers a small area.

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