The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a community meeting to update the public about the urban renewal plans for the Downtown Waterfront-Faneuil Hall area on Thursday evening.
In August 2016, the Boston Redevelopment Agency (BRA) received a six-year extension of the urban renewal powers with the conditions that the agency provide more financial transparency, catalogue properties with a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) as well as BRA-owned parcels, and engage in community outreach with biannual progress reports.
Heavily debated by residents of the North End, notably the North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA), the community was skeptical of the BRA’s urban renewal powers of eminent domain. Presumably fueled by the total demolition of the West End in the 1950’s by the BRA that displaced thousands, Mayor Marty Walsh invested in a 14-week rebranding effort that changed the name of the BRA to the now BPDA in September 2016.
There are currently sixteen urban renewal plan areas in the City of Boston. The BPDA has reached Phase 2 of community engagements which include Government Center, Campus High School in Roxbury, South Station, South Cove in Chinatown, Fenway, and finally the Downtown Waterfront-Faneuil Hall area.
The intent of these community meetings is to request feedback on pertinent questions such as whether urban renewal boundaries should change, which projects should include climate resiliency, and how can the BPDA develop owned properties in a way that benefits the community.
Although the BPDA did not present any current plans for Downtown Waterfront-Faneuil Hall, officials discussed their overall goals for the urban renewal area.
The agency hopes to revitalize a key portion of Downtown Boston while also establishing a functional connection between the surrounding districts of the North End, Government Center, and Financial District. The BPDA also aims to encourage pedestrians to enjoy the Harbor. To stimulate tourism, the BPDA plans to develop the marine or marine-oriented activities that will emphasize Boston’s historic connection with the water.
The BPDA provided a list of all of their owned parcels in the area as well as each properties’ LDA. Included in the list were Parcel C-2 on Richmond Street, Parcel B-3 which is a parking lot at Sargent’s Wharf, Long Wharf/Long Wharf Row/Atlantic Avenue, East India Row, McKinley Square, Custom House Street, the ground at Faneuil Hall Market, Cross Street/Fulton Street which is a parking lot, and Cross Street/Commercial Street.
With a Land Disposition Agreement, properties that are transferred from the BPDA are subject to the agency’s regulations which can include height restrictions, limitation to certain uses such as specifically for the elderly, or require an allotted number of affordable housing.
Raised at the meeting was the possibility of Michelle Wu’s proposal that the BPDA be abolished. According to officials at the meeting, if the BPDA is abolished then all LDAs for properties under their urban renewal boundaries would no longer exist. This means that buildings that have been restricted to certain usages in the past would possibly be able to redevelop their properties to serve a different usage.
In 2017, a LDA prevented the closing of a North End nursing home when the former owners wished to profit off of the property by potentially converting it into condominiums. The BRA had designated the property, under urban renewal, as a nursing home facility and the property had to operate as such.
Urban renewal community meetings are expected to continue with regular updates on the BPDA’s plans for the areas that fall in their boundaries. More information about the ongoing urban renewal efforts can be found here.