Special to the Patriot-Bridge
Boston City Councilor Gabriela Coletta submitted a letter of opposition to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board last week for consideration of PLAN: Charlestown, a three decade effort to designate and leverage Charlestown – the smallest neighborhood in Boston – as a smart growth region targeted for aggressive redevelopment. The BPDA board ultimately approved the plan despite opposition from the Councilor and State Representative Dan Ryan, among other community stakeholders.
In a letter regarding the plan, Councilor Coletta praised the BPDA’s efforts to put planning before development, “ensuring that we are growing to the inclusion of existing residents while creating a healthy, thriving, and prosperous City.” With full acknowledgement that growth and population density are inevitable and we must assess the best and highest uses of these parcels through an urban planning lens, Councilor Coletta praised portions of the plan, such as:
• The transition from industrial use to the creation of affordable housing
• Open space expansion and public realm improvements
• Clear guidelines along Charlestown’s coastline and in flood plans for climate resiliency and coastal flooding
• Mobility and multi-modal connectivity improvements
• The comprehensive neighborhood needs analysis
Councilor Coletta noted, “As this initiative has progressed, I’ve reiterated numerous times that the community needs to be driving this planning process to define what Charlestown will look like for future generations.” With that in mind, she went on to say, “Despite these concessions, in my conversations across the community there is a wide range of concerns and areas of disagreement; however, it is clear that several priorities remain unresolved.” Factors of note included:
• Density and height at an irresponsible level given Charlestown’s geographic and infrastructure limitations.
• From Councilor Coletta’s letter: “[My constituents] have made clear through over 350 pieces of correspondence to my office, a historic level of advocacy, that the increase of maximum allowable heights as well as the general increases in FAR are unacceptable and will negatively impact their quality of life. I stand in solidarity with their calls for further reductions of height and density in the proposed Plan.”
• Over-reliance on the MBTA and other external transportation mitigation measures and infrastructure investments without clear commitments.
• “The recommendations provided in the Plan places extreme faith in the City of Boston as well as external agencies to complete major infrastructure and increased capacity projects on a timeline that meets projected growth benchmarks. This includes the reconstruction of Rutherford Ave and the North Washington Street Bridge, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA”) Bus Network Resign, as well as a study and creation of plans for the Gilmore and Alford Street Bridges. A majority of these projects have been delayed for years due to inaction on behalf of agencies, loss of funding, or errors in construction all of which have negatively impacted Charlestown residents at the same time.”
• A lack of predictability and transparency in community benefits through Article 80.
• “A consistent point of feedback from the community is that the Plan as proposed prioritizes the needs of individual developers over those of Charlestown. I share this sentiment and encourage future planning initiatives and stakeholders within the BPDA to place more consideration on the suggestions and comments made by residents which validates their lived experience and is the true meaning of community planning. An overreliance on private developers to subsidize public investment projects almost always results in those with access to capital, connections, and political clout to write their own rules to the detriment of neighborhoods. The financial bottom line of those who seek to do business here should also be of consideration, however it can’t be prioritized over the people who will live with the consequences of our decisions for decades to come.”