Charlestown Residents Ready to Participate in Urban Renewal Community Process

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) on Feb. 27, held a meeting regarding Urban Renewal in Charlestown, where Urban Renewal Manager Chris Breen provided a history of Urban Renewal in the neighborhood, as well as information about inventory and why the city needs Urban Renewal.

The meeting was well-attended, and overall, residents seemed supportive of renewing the current Urban Renewal extension, which expires in 2022, especially if it means protecting restrictions on income-restricted housing like CharlesNewTown and Mishawum Park.

In his presentation, Breen talked about the history of Urban Renewal from 1949 to today, including the 1965 enactment of the Charlestown Urban Renewal plan, which still exists today after several extensions. Results of community engagement in the 1960s included that people wanted more preservation of existing structures, not demolition, which is what was originally porposed. Additionally, people wanted FHA loans to purchase homes, and they wanted new schools, fire stations, shopping areas and homeownership opportunities, as well as removal of the El and street and  improvements.

When the Charlestown plan was approved in 1965, its goals of the plan included preserving the neighborhood and expanding residential opportunities. In 1976, the Navy Yard was added to the plan.

Most recently, the Urban Renewal plan in Charlestown was extended for six years in 2016. Breen said the original goal was ten, but the city allowed it to be renewed for six, which means it will expire again in 2022.

Breen said that other cities in America still use Urban Renewal for development, and in Boston, it has recently been used to develop affordable housing in Chinatown and the South End.

Breen said that has worked on the BPDA Urban Renewal Action Plans, which include a website and a document list, as well as updated the records management system and put Urban Renewal on the City’s zoning viewer. There is also now an inventory of Land Disposition Agreements, as well as BPDA owned property.

A Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) is a contract  between a buyer and a seller regarding the use of land. Examples of LDAs in Charlestown include 4 Short Street, which has a restriction placed on it that dictates it can only be used for open space. Additionally, Bunker Hill Mall has an LDA that states it can only be a mall. Breen said that the LDA plan includes 21 leases with some sort of restriction on them, 290 LDAs, 37 deed-only parcels, and one regulatory agreement for a total of 377 Urban Renewal parcels.

Mishawum Park Housing and CharlesNewTown were also built on Urban Renewal Parcels, as were Menino Park and Gardens for Charlestown, Charlestown High School, and the Harvard-Kent Elementary school.

Breen said that BPDA-owned land in Charlestown includes the Charlestown YMCA, Building 108 in the Navy Yard, the Bunker Hill Community College parking lots, and the land at 5176 Main Street, which he said the BPDA is trying to use Urban Renewal powers to keep it as a home for the EMS station.

Breen said that some of the reasons Urban Renewal is still important today is that it includes zoning controls, such as land-use controls that are specific to each parcel, as well as Urban Renewal overlay districts, which means that special zoning areas within the Urban Renewal areas allow for funding and grant applications. Additionally, housing affordability restrictions can be placed on properties located within Urban Renewal areas, which is the case for Mishawum and CharlesNewTown.

Also, Urban Renewal is used by the city today in the capacity that the BPDA uses its own properties for development, and seeks public input for parcels like the Bunker Hill Community College parking lots. Additionally, Breen said that it’s the BPDA’s mission to protect land-use restrictions such as the ones placed on income-restricted housing.

Next steps for the Urban Renewal process in Charlestown include workshops about what the planned boundaries should be and whether residents feel they should be maintained as they are or changed. Breen also said that city goals such as Imagine Boston 2030 and PLAN: Charlestown will also be taken into consideration, as well as other climate resiliency plans. Since LDAs die when the Urban Renewal plan expires, many residents spoke out in favor of protecting these restrictions on certain parcels in the neighborhood. The BPDA also hopes to extend Urban Renewal in Charlestown past its 2022 expiration date.

Breen said that the current action plan is available for viewing on the BPDA’s website, and more community meetings are to follow. After these meetings, Breen will also submit a final report to the City Council and the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). He said, “We want to get as many years as we can on the extension.”

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