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Neighborhood groups feel left out of Article 80 review

Isaiah Thompson

Representatives of neighborhood groups from across the city are voicing dissatisfaction over the composition of a steering group appointed by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to overhaul the city’s planning and redevelopment process known as Article 80, which governs how public and neighborhood input are incorporated into major development projects.

In a meeting last week, more than a dozen members of community groups and neighborhood associations convened at the invitation of Anthony D’Isidoro, president of the Allston Civic Association — and the sole appointee to Wu’s new steering committee who represents a neighborhood association.

The majority of the nine steering committee members so far appointed by Wu, by contrast, come from real estate, architecture and development backgrounds.

The seeming imbalance was not lost upon those attending the meeting.

“It’s a very development-heavy [committee],” noted Marie Turley of Jamaica Plain, who asked D’Isidoro to “see if you might be able to get some support by getting some additional neighborhood folks involved.”

The composition of the steering committee “seems odd,” agreed Lorraine Fowlkes, director of DRIVE Boston, who asked: “How is our input incorporated into this? It doesn’t seem like a joining of lanes where everyone is going the same way … I don’t see anybody being happy after this process.”

Mimi Turchinetz, president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, noted that “when you look at the makeup of this advisory committee, almost every single person who’s on it has a financial interest in development.”

“There should be at least regional [neighborhood] representation, there shouldn’t be just one white guy,” added Turchinetz. “There should be some mechanism for more diversity of opinion from folks in the community.”

As the “one white guy” in question, D’Isidoro himself agreed with many of the sentiments expressed, offering to help coordinate an effort to go back to the city to communicate the group’s desire for more and broader neighborhood input.

But, noted Stephen Fox, chair of the South End Forum and Vice President of the Alliance of Downtown Civic Organizations (ADCO), “You’re in a real awkward position, Tony.”

Speaking with the Banner, Fox — whose groups are actively lobbying city officials for a more inclusive steering committee — said the Article 80 review process so far “has been bizarre.”

“Tony being the sole voice for neighborhoods across the entire city — there’s something wrong with that picture, when in fact there’s five developer-types on the rest of the steering committee,” said Fox.

“ADCO would very much like to have an opportunity to be able to talk about the critical issues around Article 80 without it being filtered” through D’Isidoro or any single steering committee member, Fox added.

Several neighborhood representatives expressed concern as well over the mayor’s stated goal of “streamlining” and bringing “predictability” to the Article 80 process — including D’Isidoro himself.

“When people hear ‘streamlining’ they get worried — at whose expense?” he said.

Thomas Ready, of the Fort Point Neighborhood Association, told the Banner, “Clearly, when we think about ‘predictability,’ we have to make sure that localized neighborhood impacts don’t get lost in the mix … The concern we’ve got is that it’s a rush. Now for Tony [D’Isidoro] to figure out all of this, as our single representative, that’s a hard thing for him to do. Because his neighborhood is different from my neighborhood.”

He added, “We’re all worried they’re going to throw the baby out with the bathwater — that we’re going to end up with a scorecard-based model” that minimizes local input.

The various neighborhood groups’ concerns have apparently not gone entirely unheard inside City Hall.

In voting to approve a related home rule petition proposed by Mayor Wu that would formally re-organize the Boston Planning and Redevelopment Authority to separate a citywide planning process from development functions, at-large City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune referred to “a lot of issues that folks have brought to my office with respect to the need for more civic association voices with respect to the Article 80 process.”

Meanwhile, D’Isidoro says he understands his colleagues’ desire for more neighborhood representation in the Article 80 review — but cautions against rejecting the current process prematurely.

“I tell people, ‘I totally understand where you’re coming from’ [and] I will advocate on their behalf, but I’m also saying, let’s be a little patient and see how the next meeting goes,” D’Isidoro told the Banner, noting that the steering committee has yet to hire consultants to manage a public input process that will presumably allow for more and broader public input.

“Let’s give it a little more time and see how this thing rolls out before we do anything drastic,” said D’Isidoro.

And, he noted, the Article 80 review process and other initiatives, including the mayor’s ambitious plans to update zoning across the city, represent a critical opportunity for neighborhood groups to make themselves heard.

“You have a mayor who made it very clear during her mayoral campaign that she was not happy with how planning and development was taking place … So I hope that we all who have a stake in this, and who have been in the trenches and deal with the good and the bad — also understand that this is a very unique opportunity to make some significant impacts in a positive way, and especially when it comes to community engagement,” said D’Isidoro.

“If we get distracted too much by other things,” he added, “we’re going to miss the opportunity.”

Anthony D’Isidoro, Article 80, BPDA, Mayor Michelle Wu