By Dan Murphy
Following the city council’s decision last week to grant the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) a six-year extension of its urban renewal powers, some community leaders have expressed indignation with the decision.
While the Beacon Hill neighborhood is not within the zone for teh BRA decision, nevertheless the development in the conigious neighborhoods does have a direct impact on Beacon Hill.
“The BRA, over time, has exhibited a tendency not to be totally transparent, and to be pretty strong-handed in pushing developments they want forward without listening to public opposition,” said Anthony Gordon, a Ellis South End Neighborhood Association board member and former chairman of its Development, Licensing and Zoning Committee. “We felt the BRA owed it to citizenry to clean up its act before any such extensions were granted.”
The BRA had originally sought a 10-year extension of its 14 urban renewal districts, which includes parts of Charlestown, the Fenway, Chinatown, the South End, Roxbury, the Downtown Waterfront, the West End, North Station area and Government Center. The six-year compromise, drafted by City Councilor Bill Linehan and set to expire on April 30, 2022, comes with new oversight, requiring the BRA to notify the city council before taking any privately owned land via eminent domain in the urban renewal districts, and to reexamine the districts, which have remained virtually unchanged since their creation in the 1960s.
“Our complaints were that the BRA was not transparent, finances were never disclosed, and they seem not to be aware of what they have in terms of property or unwilling to share that information,” Gordon said, adding that the South End group’s board of directors had sent two letters objecting to the proposed 10-year extension.
Another stipulation of the six-year extension is that the BRA would be required to digitize all of its present and past land holdings, including several hundred land disposition agreements (LDAs).
Nancy Morrisroe, past president of the Bay Village Association and its acting senior vice president, said city neighborhoods included in the urban-renewal districts are “radically different” today.
“The existing plan was written and enacted more than 50 years ago, when many urban renewal zones suffered from urban blight,” Morrisroe said. “That’s the sole reason these zones were created to begin with, and that’s no longer the case.”
Marlene Meyer, former president of the West End Civic Association, said the BRA operates as a “black box” with absolutely no public review or legal oversight.
“There’s no way to legally challenge anything the BRA does when they alter their internal process. There’s no planning per se that is publically presented,” Meyer said. “The city has the same powers, but they are subject to public oversight and legal review.”
Meyer added that the BRA is the only remaining redevelopment authority in the U.S., yet other cities still foster successful development.
“The BRA hasn’t demonstrated any continuing need for these massive powers,” Meyer said. “After nearly 60 years, if they haven’t done all the renewal that needs to be done, there’s something wrong with the agency.”
Meyer commended City Councilors Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley and Tito Jackson for voting against the six-year extension, as well as State Rep. Jay Livingstone, who was also critical of the plan.
Livingstone said, “It’s disappointing that the BRA hasn’t taken last 10 years to evaluate whether specific urban renewal districts need to continue, and I hope that it undertakes that evaluation in the next six years so that urban renewal districts for neighborhoods that have been fully developed can be ended.”