Urban Renewal Looks to be Heading for Extension in Charlestown

A new report and Council update from the Boston Planning and Development Area (BPDA) suggests that the Urban Renewal Area in Charlestown – and several other areas of Boston – will continue beyond the 2022 expiration imposed by the Council in 2016.

Charlestown’s Chris Breen, of the BPDA, has been in charge of updating the communities throughout Boston about the status of the Urban Renewal areas (URAs), and last month filed a comprehensive preliminary report with the state.

In that report, while some of the URAs in the Back Bay and downtown are recommended to be sunset, larger areas like Charlestown and the South End are looking like there will be a request to extend renewal – something that may expected, but is controversial given the 2016 limited approval by the Council.

Breen has held several meetings throughout the city this summer, but said last week that the Charlestown meeting would be scheduled for some time in November.

At that meeting, based on the report, it looks as if the BPDA will propose and extension of the Charlestown URA beyond 2022, if maybe in a smaller form.

“While the formal community engagement on the status and proposed future of the Charlestown Urban Renewal Plan has not started, other Urban Renewal activities that have taken place such as community meetings for minor modifications to the plan, and other BPDA engagement for Boston Zoning Code Article 80 projects, have yielded discussions on the potential to seek an extension of the term of the plan, a need for increased land use control in the residential neighborhood, possible proposed boundary change to include Sullivan Square to help facilitate road alignment, and adding climate resiliency measures and standards to the plan,” read the report.

That report fed into a bi-annual update to the City Council on Thursday afternoon where the BPDA presented their work from over the summer, and the schedule of meetings for the rest of the year.

Councilor Lydia Edwards was present and had a lot to say about the process, calling for the Urban Renewal efforts to include a diverse constituency and also to dovetail with the Master Plan effort that is being discussed now as well.

She gave an example of how the Chat with a Planner meeting was well attended, but by a crowd that was not very diverse and was many of the same folks that usually attend meetings. She contrasted that with a meeting held that same night with the Charlestown Residents Alliance at the Bunker Hill Housing Development – a meeting where residents discussed their potential relocation plan if the redevelopment is approved.

Edwards said the BPDA needed to bring those two dynamics together for Urban Renewal. She said the BPDA will be making major decisions that will affect the lives of many in the Town, and everyone should have a voice.

“Access is social justice,” she said. “The tables you create are inclusive or not. I’m not saying it’s intentional because I struggle with it as well. But unless we have everyone at the table, we’re not doing our jobs.”

BPDA Planner Devin Quirk (also a Charlestown resident) said they do plan to work with the planners that are starting up on the strategic planning initiative in Charlestown. He said Urban Renewal will be discussed as part of the plan, and vice versa.

“We can’t do this with our team going one way and another team going the other way,” he said.

Breen said there are many positives about Urban Renewal in Charlestown, both in the past and present. Currently, the proposed new EMS ambulance station on Main Street is a possible Urban Renewal victory, he said.

“People have said they want an EMS station and we have the property and we can put the two together with a private developer,” he said. “You are marrying the two together.”

The likely scenario for extension of Urban Renewal is to continue to dispose of excess properties in the main part of Charlestown, but expand the boundaries of the URA to include Sullivan Square.

A date for the Charlestown Urban Renewal meeting has not yet been set, but it is expected to be before Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, the full and complete report on the overall status of Urban Renewal in Boston is expected to be submitted to the state by August 2020.

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