Letters to the Editor

I am Hopeful

To the Editor,

In 1873 Charlestown voted to become part of the City of Boston and since 1874 we have been a neighborhood of the Hub rather than our own municipality. Our forefathers assented to this annexation (I say forefathers as women were not yet allowed to vote) because they recognized that the benefits of being part of a large and prosperous metropolis outweighed the potential disadvantages of reduced local control. Based on comments I’ve read online and letters I’ve seen in the Patriot-Bridge, I get the feeling that many of our contemporaries regret this decision but that does not change the fact that we are part of Boston.

We have a voice in city government through our district representative, Gigi Coletta, the four at-large city counselors for whom we get to vote, and the mayor. This is the democratic process at work. Charlestown doesn’t always get everything it wants from the city, just as the City of Boston doesn’t always get what it wants from the State House, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts doesn’t always get everything it wants from the federal government. That does not mean, as some have suggested histrionically, that democracy isn’t working; it means that being part of a larger polity necessarily involves a give-and-take.

In PLAN: Charlestown, the community got much of what it asked for—the historic core of Charlestown will be protected, largely frozen in time in terms of use and scale—but the trade-off is allowing much-needed development to occur on the periphery. Despite being home to the city’s largest affordable housing development, Charlestown has become one of the least affordable neighborhoods in Boston. Charlestown ranks behind only the Seaport in terms of highest household income and in the percentage of its population making over $125,000 per year (nearly 56% compared to 33% for Boston as a whole). Every day, multi-family dwellings are being converted by the super-wealthy into single family homes.

Each conversion reduces the housing stock in Charlestown and puts upward pressure on prices. In the limited instances where a single-family is replaced with more units, they tend to be ultra-luxury, completely out of reach for the people who would have occupied earlier multi-family units.

If we want to protect the scale, look, and feel of Charlestown’s largely single-family historic core, the only way to keep from becoming an island of the extremely wealthy (and mostly white) is to allow new development in other areas of the neighborhood. What PLAN: Charlestown contemplates is nothing like the urban renewal push of the 1960s where whole neighborhoods were raised without so much as consulting residents. Instead, the existing fabric of Charlestown will remain largely untouched and better protected by zoning that actually conforms to existing use.

Not wanting to be accused of blind praise, let me make clear that I do not think PLAN: Charlestown is perfect. I think it places too much faith in actors outside of the BPDA’s control, such as the MBTA, BTD, and MassDOT on the public side as well as private developers, to provide for the needs of a growing community. That said, I recognize it is a planning document, not an edict. The community process doesn’t end here—it begins anew with each project proposed under the plan. I am hopeful that together, we can move towards a Charlestown that respects its historic resources while building towards a neighborhood that is more economically and socially inclusive, more sustainable, less auto-dependent (since no one is satisfied with even the existing levels of traffic), and a great place to live and work.

Thank you,

 David Parkinson

BRA/BPDA: Same, or Different?

To the Editor,

In the 1960s Charlestown faced a crisis that was averted with the help of concerned, dedicated residents.  The emergency the town faces now reminds me of then.  The crisis in the 60’s threatened the destruction of a good portion of the town’s homes, in the name of eminent domain and Urban Renewal.  At its helm was the BRA – Boston Redevelopment Authority.  The pressure today is of the opposite kind – an overbuilding extravaganza destined to wall in the town that, with increased climate disorders, promises disaster.  At its helm is the BPDA – the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

 In the 60’s I saw my mom and so many other moms and dads, all concerned people, tromp over to City Hall every day for 6 weeks to voice their fears and opposition.  Charlestown residents had witnessed the destruction of the West End neighborhood and knew Charlestown was next. The West End housed mostly lower middle class and poor, hardworking families. Within several weeks’ time the BRA had displaced 7,000 West End residents in what it heralded as a “revitalizing slum clearance initiative.” The intended land takings in the West End by the city were kept secret until it was too late to oppose the project. Properties were taken and eviction notices went up. The B

Land takings were kept secret.  In the case of the 2023 BPDA Plan for Charlestown, 4 members of the BPDA voted to approve a plan that is opposed by residents, City Councilor Coletta, State Representative Ryan, the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, etc., etc. 

The letter by several Charlestown residents in last week’s paper points to the Seaport District as an example of what not to do. My father sailed on trawlers out of the Commonwealth Fish Pier.  To see the pier today, with the walls and walls of high rises behind it, “Holy Cow,” as my dad might say.  

Who benefits from these overbuilding catastrophes?

Sections related to BRA and urban renewal are from ‘Struggling to Keep their Homes: Charlestown and the BRA’, by the writer. Originally published in Charlestown Bridge, Nov. 9, 2005.

Helen O’Neil

Become a National Historic District  

To the Editor,

Want to stop the BPDA’s PLAN? Declare Charlestown a National Historic District.

If Charlestown’s history had been properly examined by the BPDA and its affiliates, PLAN Charlestown would not exist. 

The epic battle that happened in Charlestown caused the British to evacuate Boston. And yet, the battlefield sites/events of June 17, 1775 through March 17, 1776 are not listed on the national, state, or local historic registers. 

To prevent the BPDA’s hyper redevelopment PLAN for public properties spanning from the historic Navy Yard to historic Sullivan Square we need to propose legislation for National Historic District status – under state law. Why state law? Because the Boston Landmarks Commission doesn’t recognize Charlestown’s Revolutionary War battle sites as being Boston landmarks. 

The BLC has had the ability to honor and advocate for what remains ‘open public battlefield land’ since 1975.  Where have they been? And where are the historic land use reports, required under federal law/federal funding prior to the redevelopment of public land? 

Quick answer: A loophole in the 1874 Annexation Law has enabled the BLC to forsake its responsibility to properly record Charlestown’s battlefield sites under current historic preservation law. As a result, we’ve been left to the mercy of outdated urban renewal guidelines, ie PLAN Charlestown.

Why should we settle for half baked promises by the BPDA when our neighborhood clearly meets the qualifications for historic district safeguards? If the residents of Charlestown want a real say in how our public land is developed, best to end urban renewal and set our sights higher. Historic districts have more legal clarity and access to more money. 

The BPDA and its operatives are aware of Charlestown’s ability to become a national historic district and for decades have tried to squelch support claiming it would burden homeowners and local businesses with architectural regulations.  This is not true.  A National Historic Battlefield District would only apply to the redevelopment of publicly owned property.

Fortunately, Charlestown is well known for holding the line against oppressive forces. Now will be no different. By reclaiming the national heritage of this district, Charlestown can move beyond rhe BPDA’s urban renewal PLAN and reap the benefits of an historic district master plan.  Please check out www.charlestownhistoricbattlefielddistrict.org to learn more.

Johanna Hynes

The Master Plan: Our Journey, Retrospectvely

To the Editor,

Our Master Plan journey started back in 2019. At that time many of us were concerned about the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill Housing proposal with no planning being done, the destruction of mostly the entire tree canopy, and the elimination of open greenspace, creating a heat island in a flood zone. Four thousand people agreed and signed a petition that Charlestown needed orderly and thoughtful development.

In October 2019, City Councilor Wu released a report titled, “Fixing Boston’s Broken Development Process: How to Abolish the Boston Planning and Development Agency. It is a comprehensive document that argued for a planning department to create a Master Plan.

Our petition at that time of 2700 signatures was presented to Mayor Walsh. He assured the citizens the Master Plan was acceptable going forward. Less than 24 hours later, the BPDA announced no Master Plan for Charlestown and was replaced with a “study of Rutherford Avenue.” Responding to public objection, the BPDA put forth Plan Charlestown”, excluding 107 acres of development.

In February of 2021 we were excited to hand deliver our petition with more signatures to our new Mayor via her secretary. As Mayor Wu campaigned on a platform of revamping and changing the Boston Planning and Development Agency, we were confident that the mayor would be helpful and agreeable that more orderly planning is necessary. We never heard back from Mayor Wu acknowledging the receipt of the petition. This was a red flag for us early on her watch.

May 2021 came along, and we had the opportunity to speak to Mayor Wu regarding the petition at an outside community event. Mayor Wu suggested we meet with Mr. Devin Quirk, BPDA Real Estate Director.  A meeting was scheduled shortly after with Mr. Quirk and members of his staff. We were taken aback when we asked why Pier 5 and the Charlestown Navy Yard were not included in the Plan Charlestown map for greenspace, and were told by the BPDA planner, “we ran out of paper.” The meeting turned defensive and contentious. It was apparent that no one was listening to the concerns of the Charlestown community. We left disillusioned and discouraged.

Over the course of the last few years, Plan Charlestown has moved ahead with their lofty building proposals and minimal outreach to and the community, sans listening. Sure, there were events such as a “Pint in the Pub”, a “Popsicle in the Park,” and countless Zoom meetings, with minimal attendance.

Covid being over, there were no in-person meetings, beneficial to their cause of promoting Plan Charlestown with spot zoning. Missing was a comprehensive plan and meaningful engagement.

Now in 2023, we understand why: 107 acres were eliminated in Plan Charlestown. These acres are providing for more than 50 buildings, many towers, and a goal of adding 20,000 people to our one square mile. This is a cruel assault on the community of Charlestown.

It’s now evident why our letters, emails, and outreach to the BPDA and the mayor’s office were never acknowledged. Why? Many of us were astounded at the rapid progression of so many proposals. We voiced our concerns and the BPDA thought it best to ignore us. We, the People got in their way and were dismissed on so many levels. We are NOT against building but want better planning other than vague answers and promises.

Charlestown is built on filled wetlands, is in a critical flood zone, surrounded by water, three roads in and out, low tree canopy, minimal open and green space, and no infrastructure in place to support their dream of fifty buildings surrounding this one square mile. 

Tufts University published a study, “Transit Related Air Pollution “which identified that human proximity to highways results in substantial negative health impacts cardio -vascular disease, decreased lung function, neurological and memory loss, reduced longevity, to name a few    untoward effects of air pollution. 

Why the insistence on a Master Plan? Simply put, a Master Plan is a document that guides the future growth of a community. A Master Plan is a vision that helps determine the strategies and tactics used in defining transportation, traffic, public safety, housing, schools, tree canopy and environmental impacts on our health and well-being and infrastructure capacity.

Plan Charlestown skips over these requirements and gives little thought to the before mentioned goals and objectives.

The mayor, the BPDA, and the Zoning Commission are complicit in their goal to surround the community of Charlestown with fifty buildings. The 107 acres of land excluded from Plan Charlestown, is their avenue to thrust upon Charlestown building upon building. This all boils down to money and greed.

The Charlestown Preservation Society, The Charlestown Neighborhood Council, Charlestown Civic Association, Bunker Hill Monument Association, our elected officials, 4000 petition signers, over 350 communications and counting are all against Plan Charlestown. The BPDA relied on approximately 300 “responses” with many in opposition for their approval.

We are concerned about our health as our medical establishment is in crisis mode.

If we don’t have a healthy environment and clean air, our lives are compromised, and we may have no place to turn.

Who is for Plan Charlestown?

Where does democracy fit in?

Why aren’t the citizens listened to?

We cannot, but most importantly, Will Not allow Plan / Build Charlestown to dictate our future.

Speak Up Charlestown attend and send comments to [email protected]

October 27, 2023, Friday, 10AM City Council Hearing

Oppose Plan Charlestown.

Our lives and Yours depend on your willingness to stand up for What Is Right.

Ann Kelleher

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