Council calls on BRA for September meeting to discuss Urban Renewal

By Seth Daniel

Special to the Gazette

The Boston City Council is wasting no time in bringing the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) back onto the carpet to have an earlier than expected review of Urban Renewal activities and the promised two-year action plan – issuing a letter recently calling for a September meeting.

The letter was discussed in public first at the Council’s Wednesday meeting, May 11, and was signed by President Michelle Wu and Planning Committee Chair Bill Linehan—as well as all other councilors.

Council President Wu told the paper that the Council didn’t want to wait six months to begin serious talks.

“During the urban renewal extension process, councilors heard loud and clear from residents wanting more transparency and accountability from the BRA,” she said. “Rather than wait to get a progress report in six months, we are looking to proactively set expectations for our first oversight meeting in September.”

Wu also shared that information regarding the letter with members of the South End Forum recently– reiterating similar comments.

The BRA’s Urban Renewal powers have been controversial, including when in the closing moments of the Menino administration, the BRA used its eminent domain authority to declare Yawkey Way as “blighted” and permanently lease the use of road to the Boston Red Sox for concession stands for about $7 million.

A North Shore businessman is suing the BRA over the deal, saying he wanted to bid for the concession-stand rights. State Inspector General Glenn Cunha slammed the deal in a report, saying it was flawed and probably cost the taxpayers money.

Part of the Council agreement with the BRA on March 23 prior to the reauthorization vote for a six-year extension of Urban Renewal at 14 different zones throughout the city was to revisit several outstanding issues—such as expansion or contraction of zones – and to get a twice-annual reports. There was also a promise for a two-year action plan created by the BRA to address outstanding issues.

The letter sent by the Council said that in order to prepare for the two-year action plan, the Council wanted to lay out clear issues to be discussed at a September meeting. Those issues included:

  • Progress on Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) inventory.
  • Process for reviewing Urban Renewal map boundaries.
  • Overview of Urban Renewal projects in the pipeline.

Wu told the paper there is cause for hope that the BRA is reinventing itself despite some perceived setbacks recently with a near-vote on a crucial zoning change at the Boston Flower Exchange.

She said the BRA presented more information than ever before at its budget hearing before the Council. The BRA, she said, expressed agreement with the letter and a willingness to work with the Council and to become more neighborhood friendly moving forward.

“We very much look forward to continuing the robust and open dialogue that we have had with Councilor Wu and her colleagues regarding urban renewal over the past year and a half,” said Nick Martin of the BRA. “The letter was comprehensive and touched upon many of the topics that we intend to address through our two-year action plan. Director (Brian) Golden and staff at the BRA value the close working relationship that we have forged with the City Council since 2014, and we regularly receive feedback from councilors that the BRA is more responsive and transparent now than it had ever been previously. Our two-year action plan and the six-year compromise is direct evidence of our desire to foster consensus around challenging issues.”

Martin said the BRA was very proud of the fact that Councilor Linehan sent a representative to testify in favor of the Urban Renewal extension at a state hearing recently.

“The fact that Councilor Linehan sent a member of his staff to speak in favor of a six-year extension of urban renewal at a recent public hearing hosted by the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development demonstrates how well we have been able to work together,” he said.

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