Widespread bias prevents fair review of development

November 17, 2006
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An article in the Oct. 20 JP Gazette captured some shockingly biased comments directed toward the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA). Considering other recent events, fair review of the Blessed Sacrament development is now seriously prejudiced by multiple cumulative actions by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC), the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and developers Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development.

One source of the problem emanates directly from JPNC chair Nelson Arroyo. In December, 2005, in response to residents who wanted to save the rectory because they felt it had historic value, he was quoted in the Bay State Banner saying, “Save the rectory is a new language. I call it ‘hidden agenda.’ It translates into, ‘I don’t want affordable housing next to my house.’” As it turns out, the Boston Landmarks Commission ruled that indeed the building had historical value, and recommended it be preserved.

In the Oct. 20 Gazette, Arroyo confirmed his longstanding bias, saying, “I don’t believe in the genuineness of your group. I can’t.” Indirectly accusing SNA of racism, he said that much of the opposition to density is actually “based on the color of the skin or the economic condition of the people who will live there.”

The facts speak otherwise. Based on flawed methodology, incorrect population density figures were presented by the developers at multiple public meetings and witnessed by the JPNC Housing and Development Committee and Zoning Committee and the BRA. The correct calculations performed by the SNA were confirmed by three independent sources, including the City Plans Examination Office. To date, no one from the JPNC, developers or the BRA has acknowledged the mistake or made any effort to investigate and address the inaccurate information and resulting breach of community process.

Essential building density data (FAR), requested in January, 2005, was withheld from all community meetings and presented for the first time at the Oct. 17 JPNC meeting. Even the proposed density violates the JPNC’s stated goal of density consistent with the neighborhood, since it is substantially (three times) higher.

Oddly enough, the vast majority of the supporters of this project live in areas that have significantly (50 percent) less population and building density than what is proposed. Apparently, adequate light and open and green space are reserved for other areas of Jamaica Plain and beyond where they live. Now, their own local, failed or inadequate housing initiatives are forcing guilt and disproportionate solutions upon the Hyde Square area.

Contributing to the problem on a citywide basis, the PNF (Project Notification Form) submitted to the BRA did not contain the building density calculations (FAR), or a detailed description of the zoning map amendment being requested. This suggests that the BRA is not properly reviewing or managing the fair technical presentation of the project to the various city agencies.

The SNA has performed due diligence and prepared a detailed, highly accurate study of the entire area of Hyde Square documenting the project’s excessive density. It is now up to local and city officials to foster the courage to face the facts and act appropriately.

James Lesnick
Jamaica Plain