By Seth Daniel
When City officials informed State Rep. Dan Ryan about the 90-day delay on review of the One Charlestown development, his said he took it all in slowly, and ended up with more caveats to that course of action than comments on the actual delay.
This week, Ryan said he is most concerned about the dead space that will occur with regard to the project over the next 90 days, and in a letter issued before the moratorium was announced, he called for a City-led process throughout that time.
After hearing last week that there would be no official City meetings on the project until April, he said his concerns have been amplified in that he fears a vacuum could lead to misinformation and a divide in the community.
“Granting a moratorium must be done with care, or this extension will only kick the ball down the road by allowing for three months of rudderless dialogue and grapevine stories,” he wrote. “Using this time to create a more structured atmosphere will help roll back the disenfranchisement of concerned citizens, whose only handicap is having been kept in the dark by an inconsistent, ad-hoc community process the past 20 years.
“I have always thought Charlestown needed more time to digest the various projects currently being proposed,” he continued. “However, granting an extension without a plan to constructively occupy that time and space will end up being a fatal flaw. Our community will not get to where it needs to be without addressing these structural issues.”
At issue for Ryan is not so much the actual project, which he said concerns him at this early stage, but rather the process that commonly occurs in the Town. That process, he said, is much different than the rest of the City. A 2001 executive order by then-Mayor Tom Menino established Impact Advisory Groups (IAG) for individual Article 80 Large Project reviews. Those IAGs were to be made up of appointed residents and stakeholders who would be responsible for hearing the project and working out potential support and mitigation.
While that system has taken root in the rest of Boston – though with mixed results in some cases – it really never took hold in Charlestown, Ryan said. More recently, Mayor Martin Walsh has established the IAG structure in Charlestown, and there have been a handful of IAGs operating on major projects recently – as there is on the One Charlestown development. However, the historic lack of an IAG process and an historic distrust of the BPDA in the Town will lead to misunderstanding, he said.
“The information contained within this process is certainly a lot for any community to take in, specifically a community with a historic distrust of the former BRA and a more recent distrust o the manner in which our community processes were run in the past,” he wrote. “We are 15 years behind the rest of the city in terms of being brought up to speed on applicable civic engagement such as the IAG process. When government takes a passive rather than active lead in these processes, we end up with some concerned residents getting much of their development information from industry insiders, who may not always have the community’s best interests as their number one priority.”
In summary, Ryan said he is concerned about the density of the project and the height of some of the buildings – with two 21-story towers proposed – but he is more concerned right now with how the next three months will unfold. In essence, he said he feels the community is at a crossroads right now in how it will handle neighborhood processes now and in the future.
“We have the resources and human capital in this neighborhood to make these processes work,” he said. “If granting a moratorium is simply an effort to appease, I ask that you take further considerations. If granting a moratorium is the first step in assuring the sins of the past never occur again, then I’m all in.”