City councilors weigh in on E. Boston planning
Elected officials call for affordability, local input as BPDA gears up for planning process
The Boston City Council’s Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation held a public hearing on a neighborhood zoning initiative and master plan Monday night in East Boston.
Nearly 200 people attended the meeting at Mario Umana Academy, led by the hearing’s lead sponsor, Councilor Lydia Edwards. She was joined by Councilors Michelle Wu, Michael Flaherty, Kim Janey and Annissa Essaibi-George, as well as Rep. Adrian Madaro and Sen. Joseph Boncore.
A panel of Boston Planning and Development Agency officials responded to councilors’ questions regarding the recently announced planning initiative PLAN: East Boston, and community members testified what they want to prioritize in a new master plan for the neighborhood.
Edwards said that the new planning initiative was necessary because current development is guided by zoning regulations and a master plan formed in 2000.
Boncore emphasized that climate change resiliency must be a part of the new plan and Madaro said that East Boston residents must have a seat at the table.
“Development must be balanced and include preservation of architecture and character,” said Madaro.
Sara Myerson, director of planning at the BPDA, told the Council that the planning initiative will officially begin in the fall with the first inquiry phase of community hearings to draft the master plan.
Myerson also said she expects the BPDA to explore an East Boston Interim Planning Overlay District, (IPOD) an interim zoning tool that would increase community voice in the evaluation of any new development in the neighborhood.
Sheila Dillon, chief of housing for the City of Boston, updated the council on East Boston’s current housing state. According to Dillon, the neighborhood has about 17,000 housing units, of which 70 percent are rentals and 30 percent are ownership units. Two-thirds of the neighborhood’s households are low- to moderate-income.
“Eighteen percent of East Boston’s housing is affordable to low- and moderate-income families. However, we know this is not enough,” she said.
The median sales price of homes in East Boston is $528,000 and the average rent is $1,700, said Dillon.
Tom O’Brien from HYM Investment Group testified during the community panel portion of the meeting. HYM Investment Group is the owner of Suffolk Downs, and the team behind the redevelopment of the Government Center garage.
“We have been working on purchasing the site for over two years. Our goal is to create a vibrant transit-oriented mixed-use community,” said O’Brien. “We have dedicated ourselves to an extensive community process.”
O’Brien said that with the amount of space at Suffolk Downs, the development team could ideally create between 7,000 and 10,000 new housing units.
“We’ve committed to using 25 percent of the land for open space,” he added.
The BPDA has yet to approve HYM’s redevelopment proposal.
East Boston resident Cindy Baxter introduced herself as a member of the new Boston Neighborhood Association Board of Boards, a collective of six neighborhood associations.
“In March, we approached the city with our priorities,” said Baxter. “They include preserving key areas in East Boston and rezoning that supports affordable housing and climate change resiliency.”
Baxter continued, “We also request that the city provide a dedicated project manager,” to collaborate directly with all the neighborhood associations during the planning process.
An Eagle Hill Neighborhood Association member told the Council that they want to make sure any new development no longer tears down mature trees and that new trees should be planted every time there is any new development.
Magdalena Ayed, founder of Harborkeepers, an environmental advocacy organization, said her group has documented the impact climate change has had on East Boston.
“From our perspective, we are not prepared for climate change,” Ayed said. “We need to mandate, though zoning reforms, the highest standards of resiliency.”
Alice Brown, director of water transportation for nonprofit civic organization Boston Harbor Now, updated the council and community members on her water transportation study project. The project is a nine-month study to identify potential sites for new ferry service on the harbor, supported by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Barr Foundation.
Brown said that the most promising site for ferry service would be Lewis Mall, at the center of Maverick Square, with transport from the East Boston dock to Charlestown.