Real Estate

West End Residents Walk Out of Garden Garage Development Meeting

West End neighbors went ballistic this week after the Garden Garage project, previously denied by city officials, came back for further review with only two fewer stories (from 46 to 44; 465 feet to 447) and few other changes from the original proposal. Since 2011, Equity Residential has sought to replace the Garden Garage located at 35 Lomasney Way in Boston’s West End with a residential tower, currently proposed with 470 units.

A November 4th Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting hosted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority started with approximately 45-50 people, according to residents, with the vast majority walking out in protest.

West End resident and IAG member, Louise Thomas, presented a statement at the meeting:

It is difficult to participate in a process that has only given lip service to our community’s overwhelming concerns.  This is borne out by the recent new Notice of Project Change that delivers nothing meaningful from the developer in the form of real “change.”

Thomas provided a timeline going back to early 2011 when the Project Notification Form was first submitted and the IAG initially convened. She recalls a controversial side dealing agreement between the developer and abutting condo board member regarding a mutually-shared loading dock area. The quid pro quo–if a mutually satisfactory agreement was to be reached, the IAG member would deliver his Board’s support for the developer’s proposed project. There was also the case in 2014 of a developer employee who attempted to intimidate an IAG member through her employer as retribution for negative comments made about the project.

In April 2015, the BRA Director of Development Erico Lopez told the IAG that the BRA decided not to recommend the project as proposed. The BRA said they would write a Preliminary Adequacy Determination (PAD) requiring Equity to respond in a Final Project Impact Report (FPIR).  According to residents, this has not happened, and comment letters sent by 700+ people have not been acknowledged or answered. Thomas writes:

We are mystified and outraged about what happened to the promised process and what, in fact, are meaningless “changes” to the project:  less than 20 feet shorter, but wider, more massive, with reduced open space.

At an October 20, 2015 IAG meeting to review this Notice of Project “Change,” the BRA Project Manager says the BRA are now satisfied and want to move the process forward to a discussion of public benefits and mitigation, followed by a comment period that ends right after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas.  The BRA will then decide to go (or not) to their Board for project approval.  As a result, an important member of the community resigned from the IAG in protest of a grossly flawed process meant to convey a “done deal.”

As a member of the IAG, I cannot in good conscience continue to participate in a process that has so flagrantly ignored our community’s concerns.  The Impact Advisory Group members have volunteered many unpaid hours on this proposed project for five years and have duly followed the Article 80 process rules and guidelines.  Obviously, the BRA thinks it is OK to outline and promise an extended process and then change their mind.  It only confirms what we have long suspected:  that the BRA is really only a development agency with a big toolbox vs. the planning agency they also claim to be.  This proposal dilutes and destroys the kind of neighborhood we have worked so hard to rebuild after the BRA’s last attempt here at urban renewal.  We thought the BRA apologized and promised this would never happen again, but evidently that is not true.

Without affordable new development that encourages people to stay and put down roots, our neighborhood will become just another transient, uninvolved community.  So this is not the time to discuss mitigation or community benefits – that can only come after the building itself is mitigated.  The BRA needs to step up to the task and keep its promise to us by requiring Equity Residential to appropriately redesign their project to meet our and the Mayor’s housing goals.

Another IAG member, Kathleen Ryan, shared her resignation letter from the Impact Advisory Group, shown below.

Dear Mayor Walsh:

Please accept this communication as my formal resignation from the Impact Advisory Group for the above proposed project.  I have attempted several times through various channels to meet with you at your convenience to explain why I am taking this step, but have not had any success.

I do this with no small amount of disappointment and sadness about how this proposal and BRA review has unfolded.  In the capacity of an “advisor” selected to give input/feedback to the BRA and developer, I thought what I and my fellow IAG members (and indeed my neighbors) had to say was important enough to be truly considered, with a positive result for all.  I was happy to spend the hours and hours needed over the past five years to achieve this goal.  Instead, here is what we have endured:

A 2011 PNF in which we received a proposed design so out of synch with our neighborhood and its Urban Renewal Plan that it needed significant zoning relief to even be considered.  I guess this is the way most of these things start out — the developer presents more than they actually want to build and then pretend to shave it down for the supposed benefit of the neighborhood.

Shortly after, we were shown several alternatives by the developer, Equity Residential, that were again so out of scale that each required significant zoning relief. And none of the alternatives substantially even considered IAG input and hundreds of residents’ comment letters about the original design’s significant massing, size, affordable housing or traffic issues.

Then a scoping determination and DPIR were done, after which all went silent for the next two years.  The IAG could never learn what, if anything, was transpiring and had the foolish hope that no news was good news.

Finally in October 2014, with no heads up from the BRA, we received a Notice of Project Change (the first of two).  Once more, we were presented with another, even higher single tower.  The NPC proposal was so massive that, like the others before, it STILL required significant zoning relief since it didn’t conform to either the PDA or Urban Renewal Plan’s underlying zoning.  But the BRA charged ahead and had the zoning commission approve spot zoning changes to allow this proposed design.  And they did it without noticing the IAG or abutters except in a Boston Herald notice that never even mentioned the West End or the Garden Garage proposal.  So we had no chance to take time off from our real jobs and speak at the hearing.  How transparent is that??

To add insult to injury, and this is very personal for me, one of the developer’s representatives wrote an email to my employer attempting to get me fired for making written remarks about the project.  The allegations were harassing, intimidating, and resulted in great personal embarrassment for me with my employer in addition to the concern that I could lose my job.  I wrote apologies to my management, and when a newspaper article about the incident was published, it was widely circulated at my place of employment.  You certainly can imagine how horrible this was for me.  Although the BRA raised objections to the developer and demanded they do something, the developer refused to dismiss their representative and he remains, to this day, gainfully employed by Equity Residential behind the scenes.  How is that for any real accountability??  (And please note I am writing this letter on my own personal time.)
In order to duly follow the guidelines outlined in a real Article 80 process, we attempted to meet deadlines imposed throughout this process at most inconvenient times, and before Christmas 2014, we managed a letter-writing campaign in our neighborhood.  More than 650 residents took the time to submit letters objecting to the current design and asking the BRA to work with us and the developer for something that fit the neighborhood and your own workforce housing goals.

As a result, Jerome Smith and Brian Golden were gracious to meet with us to discuss the comments in the letters, the project itself and the zoning approval fiasco.  We were promised a more extensive process and afterward, the Director of Development wrote us that the BRA would not recommend the project and was going to issue a PAD and require an FPIR from the developer.  The stated intent was that Equity would come back with a more reasonable design that we could all work with.  We were foolish enough once again to hope we had a chance for a real say about what would happen in our beloved neighborhood.

And finally, here we are now in late 2015.  The PAD and FPIR have never materialized, all our comment letters have never been either acknowledged or answered (including a letter from the Hawthorne Place attorney), and we were just told there would be no PAD or FPIR.  Instead, what we have now been given is a second NPC, and there are once again no material changes!!  It is still too massive, requires significant zoning relief, and the BRA says you, our Mayor, like the design and want to move it forward!

In essence, we are being told that regardless of the five years of unpaid sweat equity by countless neighbors and the IAG, it just does not matter, this is moving forward.  While the BRA will wait for comment letters, they are due on December 7th, conveniently (for the BRA and developer) right in between Thanksgiving and Christmas — does this sound familiar?  After that, the BRA will “decide” if it will go to the December BRA Board meeting for project approval.    WHAT A PROCESS — WHERE IS THE ULTIMATE ACCOUNTABILITY??

Mr. Mayor, that is it in a rather large nutshell.  I wanted to tell you this personally and implore you to consider what we are saying — we know our neighborhood best.  We know also that it is possible to design a development we can all be proud of and that meets your goals, our goals, and makes the developer its healthy profit.  I truly hope you will read this email and understand why I am resigning from this process.  I would be so pleased if you cared enough to get me back at the IAG table with the promise of a reasonably designed development for our neighborhood and our residents.

Thank you.

Kathleen M. Ryan

10 Replies to “West End Residents Walk Out of Garden Garage Development Meeting

  1. Unless and until Boston manages to elect a mayor with the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the BRA, or ideally dissolve it, this kind of neighborhood-destroying activity will continue all over the city, and developers will continue to get everything they want by throwing money at the appropriate entities. Obviously City Hall’s dream is a population that consists entirely of the unimaginably rich and those who wait on them, and the BRA is the instrument that will make that dream come true.

    1. Neighborhood destroying? You’re talking about a garage… that sits where there used to be a neighborhood. Knock down that scar and build places for people to live.

      That’s neighborhood BUILDING, not destroying.

    2. Paul:

      Marie, that was the best description of the B R A and the housing power structure in Boston I’ve seen from a resident.
      We are calling for a ” People’s Housing Board” that has binding legal final approval power over what get’s built in their neighborhoods. Please contact me if you would like to get involved…

  2. These new transplants are up and arms over a Garage. What about the neighborhood that the BRA destroyed in the 50’s, where families had their water, gas & electric shut off if they didn’t move. A neighborhood of 20 Nationalities was destroyed for greed. I know as I was one of the lifelong resident that was displaced. Let me know when you face a real problem!

  3. Sad again on what big money wants to do
    And we all know money will talk in city hall he’s not for the people
    What needs to be done is clean house in all the departments get people out that been there for years get people in the neighborhood To have those seats because they know best what is best not just people doing there jobs sometimes you need more then that to really understand how to do that job correctly

  4. Kudos to the West End Residents. A group with “Balls”, in plain English. The North End/Waterfront
    & Beacon Hill Residents should be protesting over the parking spaces they gave to Zip Car &
    Enterprise. Can someone please tell me what our elected politicians are doing to help us.
    I think all these Committees representing the North End/Waterfront Residents & Beacon Hill Residents
    should get together & protest out City Hall the way the West End Residents did. I don’t know if they
    took any resident parking spaces from the West End, but Beacon Hill, like the North End has 2
    spaces taken away from resident parking to accommodate Zip & Enterprise on Charles Street.
    What the hell are we waiting for? Let’s have a peaceful demonstration outside of City Hall and let
    them know we are not going to be pushed around anymore and get as much “media” as possible
    involved. Complaining on the internet is not a solution, let’s protest.

    1. They are replacing a run down garage. I for one am sick and tired of the anti development folks who claim they represent the neighborhood. Has there been a vote by all residences on this? What makes you so sure the entire neighborhood feels the same way you do? Not liking this development is simply a personal opinion. It is not a fact that this proposed development is bad for this location. Many folks would rather the old garage be replaced with a large scaled apartment tower. We desperately need as much housing as possible.

  5. I can’t see where replacing a garage with residential structure is a bad idea. Will likely bring residential type businesses into the neighborhood, like a super market.

  6. I’m struggling to understand what the residents on the IAG are asking for. What could possibly be bad with tearing down an unsightly parking garage and replacing it with much-needed housing (across the street from another new high-rise housing tower currently under construction)? I don’t know if they’ve noticed, but we have a serious housing shortage in Boston right now, especially in our urban core.

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