Commentaries

Commentary on Garden Garage Project: Sweetening the Pot or …?

by Bernard Berlin

Rendering of Equity Residential, $390 million, 44-story, 470 apartment Garden Garage Project with underground parking, approved 5-0 by the BRA board on February 10, 2016

How much does two million dollars matter? This month, in spite of overwhelming community objections, the BRA board unanimously approved the Garden Garage Project. The board’s actions are disappointing at best and very troublesome in light of the events leading up to their vote.

Last month, the board tabled action on the proposal in front of a long line of West End residents voicing their disapproval of the project. Unwilling to vote in the presence of such strenuous community objections the board instructed the developer, Equity Residential, to come up with a plan addressing the community’s concerns.

What Equity subsequently presented to the IAG committee was little more than cosmetic changes to their previous proposal, approximately a 1% reduction in mass (about 24 inches in width) and 55 fewer parking garage spaces. All of which was nothing near what the community had been asking for from the onset of the review process.

However, this time there was one major difference; Equity Residential sweetened the pot for the City and the BRA to move the project forward with two million dollars. All of which leads to the larger question. Does sweetening the pot with two million dollars override the long standing community objections to this project or is it merely…?

Before exploring this matter further, let me be clear; I am not accusing anyone of any wrong doing. The money was offered publicly and the city of Boston will benefit from the additional two million dollars for a much needed traffic study and more money for the affordable housing program. Still, it begs the question: how much did this money influence the Board’s decision to approve an otherwise controversial project when nothing else materially changed.

I suspect this all comes down to a matter of perspective. From my vantage point as a resident of the West End, all we seemed to accomplish was to induce Equity Residential to add more money to the pot for the Board’s approval. Equity, themselves could very well feel that they were taken advantage of by this process. However, their ruffled feathers will eventually be smoothed by the profits from this project for their Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT).

For the residents of the West End, we are left wondering how, despite our many protests, multiple letter-writing campaigns, e-mails and letters to the Mayor, the BRA Director and the individual board members of the BRA, we could not influence one single vote in our favor.

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2 Replies to “Commentary on Garden Garage Project: Sweetening the Pot or …?

  1. And so the BRA and the Mayor undo the neighborhoods of Boston, one bribe at a time.

    No, this money had no effect on the BRA vote; it is strictly PR.

    And it should have no effect on the residents’position — which is that your democratic process has been stolen by the BRA’s Urban Renewal Plan powers.

    As to the “benefit” to the City: Ttransportation studies should be done by a City Planning Department, funded and accountable to the taxpayers, not by corporate profiteers buying public opinion. And “affordable housing” has become the “puppies and orphans” buzz phrase, the abracadabra of development, the key to the kingdom; just say the words, and you are a “good guy” helping “poor people” and you can do anything you want without criticism. Look: None of the “affordable housing” strategies that depend on enabling developers’ land speculation is going to make the slightest dent in our housing problem. They haven’t helped the problem for all these decades, and won’t now. Indeed, they make it worse.

    Mayor Walsh is no more concerned with affordable housing than Mayor Menino was. That’s why we have this problem, after all the booms and all the population increases and all executive orders and all the money (supposedly) put into it. If we care about affordable housing, we have to have broad policies in place that specify and target exactly what is needed and for whom. We have to have CITY PLANNING–which we will never have as long as the BRA is allowed to hang on to the title of Planning Board, which it stole via state legislation pushed by then-Mayor John Collins and his new director, Ed Logue, in 1960.

    And we need to elect a Mayor who actually gives a damn about the people who need affordable housing, and doesn’t just use them as a political football to squelch public criticism of his destructive development policies, against which, thanks to his BRA — the Department of Dirty Tricks — the public has no legal recourse.

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