JPNC methods, perspective show lack of information

April 13, 2007
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I am writing in response to “JPNC wants affordable housing in Forest Hills” (JP Gazette, March 29, 2007). I take issue with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) perspective on the issues and their method of participation.

The article reports JPNC concerns with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) process; I disagree. As a Forest Hills resident and participant in the process, I believe the BRA has created an inclusive process, working with Forest Hills community groups from the moment that the MBTA announced its land disposal plans. The Greater Forest Hills Task Force (which includes members from the neighborhood associations in and around Forest Hills) helped plan and launch the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII) process.

Neighborhood input has guided the schedule and content of FHII meetings, as well as suggested study areas, scope, and principles to guide the project. And, the BRA-sponsored FHII Working Group has been an open forum for active participants to contribute and refine ideas in between larger community meetings.

Further, the BRA has done a good job publicizing meetings via flyers, e-mail distribution lists, advertisements and its web site. Here again, the BRA has been responsive to neighborhood suggestions.

Lastly, neighborhood residents are facilitators in the community meetings, and the BRA provides full post-meeting summaries of the comments as reported by the participants. I have seen participant comments quickly reflected.

In comparison, the JPNC endorsed a petition calling for 50 percent affordable housing on the parcels, evidently without any effort to gauge the Forest Hills neighborhood’s or greater JP’s interest in such a target, and despite the lack of a meaningful definition of affordable. Why didn’t the JPNC publicize its meeting and agenda in advance or reach out to the Greater Forest Hills Task Force and surrounding neighborhood associations? Who do they represent?

If the JPNC wants to claim to be a voice of the community, I encourage it to reach out to the Forest Hills neighborhood groups in advance of any further discussions it intends to host, and to work with the process that the Forest Hills neighborhood associations have invested in with the BRA.

On the issues, I believe the petition organizers and JPNC propose the wrong course for Forest Hills. Why 50 percent? Which definition of affordable? The FHII Working Group and community meetings have developed a set of principles for the project that support socioeconomic diversity, but 50 percent “affordable” is arbitrary. The appropriate ratios and types of housing deserve greater discussion, not a petition and JPNC vote.

The parcels up for development are quite large, with tremendous opportunity to affect the character of the neighborhood. Mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development with a high proportion of market-rate housing—with a strong ownership component—is the best path to guarantee a healthy Forest Hills community and turn underutilized dead space into a vibrant neighborhood center.

Reuven Steinberg
Forest Hills, Jamaica Plain