Forest Hills process should serve residents

July 11, 2008
By

Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) architect John Dalzell deserves compliments for his consistent skill, fairness and professionalism during the Forest Hills planning process. What he provided to the community is what has been lacking in both the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) regarding planning, namely: educating the community on complex urban planning issues; providing supporting facts about the surrounding area; and explaining how all these must complement each other for a successful project.

Dismissing facts and abandoning concern for Forest Hills residents, both the JPNC and JPNDC set out on their own agendas. During the planning sessions, I watched in astonishment as JPNDC advocates repeatedly ignored creative suggestions by participants and yanked the discussion away from affordable living and shared services to simplistic self-centered mantras about “new affordable housing.” Forget that the BRA provided statistics showing the majority of existing residents already meet the guidelines proposed by the housing advocates.

So why is it that respect for the future of over 7,000 existing residents is less important than a few new residents? Is the idea of “maintenance” and supporting “existing” residents not as righteously glamorous as “new”? Is it that entering into skillful planning about shared services is too difficult a task and might involve research and in-depth discussion on the larger issue of affordable living vs. affordable housing?

The critical issue remains that once a space is designated for housing, it may never be available for shared services such as day care centers, playgrounds, schools and open space. Even retail and office spaces can offer more benefit to a larger number of residents per square foot than private residential ownership.

While quick to criticize the BRA, ironically, both the JPNC and JPNDC did not show skill when hosting public meetings about the development of the former Blessed Sacrament Church property several years ago. The JPNDC’s list of community process violations then included: deliberate evasion of those with opposing views; presenting incorrect supporting data to the community; and using erroneous methodology for density calculations.

The insular JPNC cited zoning codes erroneously and trivialized unfair tactics used by the JPNDC at that time. The JPNC does not publish minutes; offers no forum or publications for educating JP residents on urban planning issues; and most often doesn’t return phone calls or answer e-mails.

Producing a vibrant, livable neighborhood for existing residents should take priority over new housing issues. The future of Forest Hills should not be entrusted to any group with an ax to grind that is willing to risk offering the livability of Forest Hills as a sacrificial lamb to compensate for over-prioritized new housing.

Neither the JPNC nor the JPNDC have shown an unbiased recognition of and respect for facts about local residents and their impartiality regarding decisions concerning the successful development and future of Forest Hills. Appropriately, their comments and form letters should be discounted in any tally of public input.

James Lesnick
Jamaica Plain