Wu Submits Home Rule Petition To End Urban Renewal

Special to the Times

Mayor Michelle Wu on Monday submitted to the City Council a proposed Home Rule Petition to end Urban Renewal in Boston. If approved by the City Council, the Home Rule Petition would be sent to the State House for approval by the Massachusetts legislature. The proposed legislation would create new tools to meet future needs such as climate change resilience infrastructure, and retain the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s (BPDA) ability to enforce restrictions that protect community assets, such as affordable housing and open space. The proposal will also update the statutory mission of the BPDA by establishing a new charter for advancing resilience, affordability, and equity. Mayor Wu today also submitted an order to the City Council requesting a two-year extension of remaining Urban Renewal plans to allow time for legislative approval of the Home Rule Petition.  

Urban Renewal

The proposed Act would end the ability to make land takings based on blighted, decadent, or substandard conditions in the City.  It also entitles the agency to enforce any conditions and restrictions in existing plans that protect important community benefits such as affordable housing, open space, and community uses.

New Charter

The legislation directs the BPDA to prepare and implement plans that address three key planning principles: 1) resiliency, including climate change mitigation and adaptation; 2) affordability, including the creation and retention of affordable housing and support for local businesses; and 3) equity, in the form of community development plans that ensure the equitable distribution of benefits derived from development in the City, and redress historical inequitable policies that may have led to inequities in the City’s growth. The legislation would require that all plans be approved by the mayor.

Modernizing the BPDA

Since 2016, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) has been the operating name of two legal entities: the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) of Boston. This legislation will simplify Boston’s quasi-governmental entity by abolishing the BRA and EDIC and transferring the powers and duties of those entities into a new, singular entity named the BPDA. As Mayor Wu announced in her 2023 State of the City address, the quasi-governmental entity, which will be named the the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) legally upon passage of this legislation, is envisioned to be staffed by City employees who work for a City Planning & Design Department and report to the Chief of Planning. The migration of current BPDA staff to this new City department will take place over the next 1 to 2 years.

Temporary Urban Renewal Extension

The Order submitted today, which requires approval of the City Council, the BPDA Board, and the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development, extends protections on 12 existing Urban Renewal plan areas beyond the current sunset date of March 31, 2023. The extension will guard land use protections currently in place and give time for the Home Rule Petition to pass. Once passed, the temporary extensions will remain in place through March 31, 2025, or until passage of the proposed Home Rule Petition.

Executive Order on New Direction for Planning and Development

In her 2023 State of the City last week, Mayor Wu announced a new direction for planning and development that ensures resilience, affordability and equity goals guide the City’s growth. Today, Mayor Wu also issued an Executive Order to ensure that direction. The Executive Order directs the BPDA to invest in reforming Boston’s zoning code and to prioritize community engagement in that planning work. It also directs the Chief of Planning to create a coastal resilience delivery team responsible for preparing Boston for sea level rise and directs the BPDA to use its portfolio of property to advance the City of Boston’s priorities. The Executive Order also instructs the BPDA to use its existing powers to act in accordance with the Home Rule Petition filed.

Ward 1 City Councilor Gabriela Coletta said, “ I applaud the move by Mayor Wu to embed climate resiliency, affordability, and equity within the planning process in the City of Boston. East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End are uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise due to climate change. The creation of the Coastal Resilience Delivery team is much welcomed after months of advocacy from my office for more resources and coordination. I look forward to working with the team to realize and deliver climate resiliency for District One and the entire City of Boston.”

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