BRA chief backs S. Huntington master plan

October 12, 2012
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By John Ruch and Rebeca Oliveira

Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) Director Peter Meade backed the creation of a S. Huntington Avenue master plan in an exclusive Gazette interview held Oct. 11 in Jamaica Plain after he personally looked at some controversial local development sites.

Asked whether there should be a BRA-created master plan for S. Huntington, as called for by many community members amid rapid redevelopment there, Meade replied, “Yes.”

“As new projects come on, we need to have a more complete understanding of how they’re integrated into the neighborhood and what adjustments need to be made,” he said, likening the idea the Boston Harbor area master plan.

Meade said he does not have a particular master plan process in mind for S. Huntington. He simply said some kind of a master plan is a good idea, and BRA staff members can “figure out the details” of how to do it.

The goal would be to get the full picture of how the area functions. “I really rely on people in the community” for that input, Meade said.

As head of the BRA, the City’s quasi-public economic development agency, Meade is one of Boston’s most powerful officials. Interviewed over lunch at Hyde Square’s El Oriental de Cuba, he also discussed some of the local developments that are getting BRA attention.

Speaking about the controversial apartment project proposed at the former Home for Little Wanderers site at 161 S. Huntington, Meade said, “I think the developer…has not done the best job I’ve seen done in working with the community.”

He noted that the BRA will hold significant leverage over the project’s design even after its likely approval by the BRA board next week.

But Meade also said the project fits some broader trends toward smaller housing units and services geared toward young professionals. The BRA wants Boston to remain a “welcoming city” for all types of people, he said. Citing a quote often attributed to hockey great Wayne Gretzky, he said the BRA tries to focus on “where the puck is going to be,” meaning that economic development must be ready for forming trends, not just present conditions.

Meade said he is aware of the “great deal of strong opinions” about two redevelopment proposals for the former Blessed Sacrament Church campus in Hyde Square.

“It’s not just a development,” but also a former church where people marked significant personal events such as weddings and funerals, he noted.

While the BRA’s role at the church site is limited pending the filing of official plans, Meade indicated that community opinion will inform the BRA’s response.

Meade also commented on the recent MBTA service cuts, which included an end to weekend Green Line streetcar service on S. Huntington just as massive development begins and a new hotel opened.

“We will rue the day we shut down any part of the Green Line,” he said, citing public transit as a key factor in the city’s economy.