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Activists demand greater say in BPDA Dorchester plan

Demonstrators interrupt planning meeting, call for 6-month moratorium

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Activists demand greater say in BPDA Dorchester plan
Demonstrators took over the floor during a BPDA Glover’s Corner planning meeting, voicing concerns over rising rents in the Dorchester neighborhoods around the planning area.

For much of 2017, the city’s planning process for the Glover’s Corner section of Dorchester has followed a familiar playbook: city officials, civic leaders, developers and neighborhood residents gather in a series of meetings designed to elicit opinions on possible land uses.

Demonstrators took over the floor during a BPDA Glover’s Corner planning meeting, voicing concerns over rising rents in the Dorchester neighborhoods around the planning area.

Demonstrators took over the floor during a BPDA Glover’s Corner planning meeting, voicing concerns over rising rents in the Dorchester neighborhoods around the planning area.

On the Web

BPDA data, map for Glover’s Corner planning:

Participants gather around tables and place color-coded Legos on maps, apply sticky notes to poster boards and use other prescribed means to voice support for land uses and transportation priorities or raise concerns about issues such as housing affordability and displacement. The participant feedback so far for PLAN: Glover’s Corner is summed up on a two-page document on the Boston Planning and Development Agency website.

During a BPDA-hosted public meeting last week, that familiar playbook was upended as activists from a coalition of community groups and neighborhood associations interrupted the meeting, grabbing the cordless microphone and demanding a six-month moratorium on the city’s planning process.

“We don’t want to just come to meetings so that you have our names and information on a sign-in sheet. We want a real process,” said Mimi Ramos, executive director of the Fields Corner-based New England United for Justice. “We deserve a seat at the table. We want a real, authentic dialogue.”

The intervention mirrored similar tactics used by Jamaica Plain activists during the BPDA’s Plan: JP/Rox process. And like Jamaica Plain, the Glover’s Corner section of Dorchester is facing development pressure, fueling fears of rising housing prices and displacement. The BPDA has already greenlighted a planned 300-unit market-rate development called DotBlock, which area residents say could exacerbate already rising rents in the area.

Jamaica plain

In the Jamaica Plain process, activists interrupted meetings, sought and secured a months-long delay in the process, pressed for better translation services and eventually pressured the BPDA to agree that 40 percent of the units developed in that area – between Jackson Square, Egleston Square and Forest Hills – would be affordable. But in its plan for South Boston’s Dorchester Avenue area, barely a mile from Glover’s Corner, the BPDA baked only 13 percent affordability into its plan.

The Glover’s Corner area runs along Dorchester Avenue from Freeport Street to Savin Hill Avenue and includes Pleasant Street between Hancock Street and Savin Hill Avenue. Currently, just 25 percent of the area contains housing, with commercial uses occupying 41 percent and industrial 17 percent of the land. As is the case in South Boston, real estate developers are eyeing the industrial parcels for residential development. With market rate rents in Boston averaging $2,800 a month and the median sales prices for homes at $571,000, areas like Glover’s Corner have become more attractive to developers.

But the residents who demonstrated at last week’s meeting said they fear the city’s planning process could fuel more speculation in the area.

“We’re already seeing some of the impact of development in the Bowdoin, Geneva and Meeting House Hill areas,” said Dorchester resident Davida Andelman. “Rents are now $2,300 and up. We’re concerned about people who’ve lived here a long time not being able to stay.”

A call for community input, translation

Andelman and other residents say the BPDA planning process so far has had too little input from the businesses and residents who would be affected by the plan. The majority of the businesses along Dorchester Avenue are owned by Vietnamese and Cape Verdeans, yet the BPDA has done little to provide translation services or distribute flyers translated into their languages, Andelman told the Banner.

Then there’s the nature of the planning process itself. With presentations delivered by BPDA and city officials, most of the community input happens in small tables, a planning strategy BPDA critic Shirley Kressell says doesn’t allow for a free-flowing exchange of ideas.

“It’s all just a bunch of individual comments, briefly scribbled on a big sheet of paper and quickly blurted out going around the room, by one of the group members as s/he decides to represent the group,” she said in a recent comment on the PLAN: Dudley Square process posted on the Banner’s website. “Lots of ‘public participation’ — in nothing.”

Dorchester resident Carolyn Chou, who has participated in the BPDA’s Glover’s Corner planning process, said many residents she has met with feel similarly.

“They feel that their opinions are being dismissed,” she said. “The way they do this process forces you to pick between their options instead of sharing your own opinion. If people asked a question outside of the activity, it was dismissed.”

Things came to a head in October after Chou, Ramos, Andelman and other activists in their coalition met with the BPDA and asked for data on the demographics of the planning area in addition to the six-month moratorium on the process. After the activists in November sent a letter asking for a response to their requests, they say they received no reply.

Following the disruption at last week’s meeting by the activists, Lara Mérida, BPDA’s deputy director for community planning, told reporters that much of the data the activists are asking for is currently posted on the BPDA website. The activists’ demand for the data to be broken down further has not been completed yet, she added.

“It’s just a lot of information to try to compile,” she said. “We are going to continue working with them.”

But Mérida said the BPDA is not open to the six-month moratorium the activists requested.

“I think a moratorium is tricky, because we’re all trying to learn from each other,” she said. “The planning exercise, making sure that we’re reaching out to people — there needs to be a constant conversation. So, I wouldn’t want to have a moratorium on conversations.”

But Chou said without more comprehensive information, the Lego planning exercises, small group conversation and sticky note comments won’t constitute a meaningful process.

“People can make informed decisions if they’re given all the information,” she said. “It’s doesn’t feel like that’s happening in these meetings.”