Last week the two candidates for the District 1 City Council seat, Gabriela ‘Gigi’ Coletta and Tania De Rio, took part in a virtual candidates forum hosted by the Pier 5 Association Inc.
“The Pier 5 Association, a group of Charlestown Community Members and Neighbors wants to give a big shout out and thanks to our candidates for the District 1 City Council seat, Tania Del Rio and Gabriela Coletta for their participation in our Candidates Forum on February 7, 2022 by Zoom,” said the group in a statement following the forum. “We also want to give big thanks to our neighbors and friends that joined us on Zoom to hear the points of view of both candidates.”
The topics ranged from the conversion of Pier 5 itself into open publicly accessible waterfront space for the Charlestown Community; to support for Mayor Wu’s plans for structural change at the BPDA in terms of separation of Planning from Development to avoid zoning by variance; to ending Urban Renewal to provide for greater community engagement in the planning process and social justice; waterfront planning including the need for new Master Harbor Plans for Charlestown and the waterfront communities; inclusion of open green space and tree canopy for quality of life, affordable housing which promotes quality of life to provide social justice and diversity, equality and inclusion in our neighborhoods, North End dining, small business and economic vibrancy; schools and transportation infrastructure overburdening from excessive development; issues of climate change and climate resilience planning for our waterfront communities; and protection of historic Charlestown.
Below are a few of the questions each candidate fielded during the two-hour forum.
Question: Do you support reorganizing or replacing the BPDA into separate planning and development processes?
Tania Del Rio: I’ll just kind of answer it briefly and say yes, absolutely, I support this. The way we’re handling zoning in the city is not transparent. It’s forcing us to have these one off discussions and it’s disconnected. When we do that, we are unfortunately missing out on an opportunity to deliver on the full potential of the opportunity of our neighborhood. It’s specifically our waterfront as a place that could be bringing us together, help us build community and (the BPDA’s) decisions are being taken out of the hands of citizens and into fewer people that are in power. I would like to see the function of planning separate from the function of development.
Gabriela Colatta: One hundred percent absolutely, yes. We need to separate planning from development. There’s no doubt about it right now. With the BPDA there’s a whole lot of development, not a lot of planning and that is why we have this parcel by parcel approach and there’s no predictability for any residents at all. People feel like their community is growing and it’s growing without them. So I 100 percent support the opportunity to separate planning from development. Additionally, on this point, I will advocate for greater emphasis on collaboration between residents who are the community experts. You understand how this neighborhood works. You understand all of its faults, you sit in traffic every day. So you are the experts. Planning should be driving development and not the other way around.
Question: As our next city councilor, how would you work with us and our Charlestown neighbors to assure that this neglected infrastructure (Pier 5) has the attention it deserves and conserve a mission of sustainability, social justice and climate resilience as a community asset for all?
Del Rio: So I would share with all of you that my leadership approach has always been and will always be community driven and it’s going to start with listening as the first step. In this case, the community has organized and the BPDA has responded by going back to the drawing board and I think it’s a great first step. I really need to see that the development of Pier 5 is going to be a benefit for Charlestown. I agree that this has to be a larger conversation and we have to get creative and think outside the box now. I think we all know we’re in a housing crisis. We need to build more affordable housing, but we also need to ensure that our housing needs are balanced with other features of a resilient, cohesive, livable community and that includes open green space. Charlestown is one of the densest neighborhoods in Boston, and I support efforts to build that green space (on Pier 5).
Coletta: For me Pier 5 presents an incredible opportunity to protect Charlestown through both a climate resiliency lens but also an equity lens. Those are two things that are very, very important to me. We have the opportunity to make this Pier into a million different things, but I want to prioritize open space while inviting folks in in an inclusive and accessible way. I think that we could be looking to contemporary climate resilience strategies, like permeable surfaces that can take in the water, but also meet the sea as a way to fortify the coastline. We could have a beautiful living and active shoreline the way that we do in East Boston that allows for people to physically touch the water and interact with the water and it could be used as a recreational model as well as an educational model for our kids. And we can do this while also creating an anchor space for folks to enjoy open space and I know that people have different opinions about what they want to see here. But at the end of the day, regardless of what happens here, it does need to prioritize climate resiliency to protect our neighborhood, but also invite folks in in a way that makes sense for the neighborhood.
Question: Is a public park a better use than using the proposed demolition costs that (the BPDA) would have used for privatizing the commercial housing development on Pier 5?
Coletta: I think that we should keep it an open space and keep it a park. For me the three RFPs that came in, they each had their own strengths and they definitely had their weaknesses, which is why the BPDA threw them out and why we’re back at square one. I don’t think that this particular Pier is great for commercial development. There was a question of trying to find different ways to bring people into this community who otherwise wouldn’t have access to live here and it was centered around affordable development. And for me, that’s something that’s very, very important to me. I would love for the waterfront to be accessible for everybody regardless of your socioeconomic status. So yes, I would love to have affordable housing at some point on the waterfront as a matter of social justice. Did it make sense here? Probably not.
Del Rio: I’ll use Piers Park and LoPresti Park in East Boston as examples of what an open waterfront for all can do. These are tools in our community and you see people from all backgrounds coming in–not just people that live there–but people from everywhere come and enjoy the view and the relaxation of being part of a greenspace on the Harbor. There’s the (Piers Park Sailing Center) and so many other opportunities again for people to come together. So for me when the waterfront is open for all to share for all to build community there is no better use. The waterfront is special, and it should belong to all of us.
Question: Do you support a moratorium on development?
Coletta: “I don’t think a moratorium is legally possible in the City of Boston so I’m not going to promise anything that I can’t keep. What I will do is continue fighting in the ways that I can and capacity as a City Councilor. These are zoning tools, fighting for affordable housing, but then also holding the mayor accountable to do better on behalf of our communities. That is the role of a City Councilor and I intend to be a strong advocate and bold in that regard. I just can’t promise a moratorium because that’s a promise that nobody can keep.
Del Rio: Charlestown, as we all know, is one of the densest neighborhoods in Boston. It does not have enough openspace. I’ve heard from families about long wait lists for signing up for soccer, for signing up for lacrosse, and there’s not enough of it. We are not planning holistically. And as we’ve been talking about today, we need to make sure that when we’re building out a community that is livable, that ihas equitable access to transit, grocery stores, schools, and all of those things. So as I said, I think the planning part of this is absolutely urgent. Not only urgent, completely overdue. Now I know there’s a lot of projects already in place and already in motion into the process. So what I think we can do is just continue those conversations and advocate for developments that make sense. I don’t believe in stopping all development, but I do think that we need to plan first.
Question: You are both from East Boston. How will you develop and maintain a connection to our one square mile corner of the city?
Coletta: I love this question. I love this one square mile. You all have taken me in and made me one of your own over the last couple of years. Even though I did grow up in East Boston and I had some friends over here and Charlestown working for Lydia (Edwards) was one of the first times that I really understood what was going on here, what some of your issues were, what your hopes and dreams are for your kids and how you want this neighborhood to move forward. Now I saw the opportunity to come back and serve the neighborhoods that I absolutely love and cherish. It would be an honor to represent this district. I understand that Charlestown has a very unique history so I want to honor that history. I understand that Charlestown also has a lot of different perspectives and that’s going to be important for a leader leading this neighborhood, as they are sitting at a table and having tough conversations, making sure that they are constantly reaching out to folks from different sides or different areas of the community. This is to make sure that they are at the table defining policy, defining any community initiative that’s taking place. You have to constantly be reaching out to folks and getting a perspective and getting feedback and being intentional with reaching out. Del Rio: I’ve been spending a lot of time in Charlestown since I moved to Massachusetts. I like to walk the Freedom Trail and I like to go to the Bunker Hill Museum and the USS Constitution. It’s just such a historic part of this neighborhood and it is beautiful. I go to the Warren Tavern and just kind of walk the beautiful streets. So for me, I think in uniting the three parts of our district. I think we have to think really creatively about the water right now. The three parts of our district are separated by the Harbor and I want us to think about how the harbor unites us. Can we do it through water transportation? There is a pilot going on right now that has a ferry but how do we make that very affordable and frequent and dependable so that we can use it as a substitute for a car or as a substitute for other ways of transportation? How can we get creative about keeping open access to the Harborwalk and making Charlestown, East Boston and the North End waterfront places that attract people from all over just because they want to admire the beauty of our harbor? We’re thinking of the harbor as something that should be uniting us so I’d be constantly thinking about that.”