Letter: What was the point of S. Huntington input?

November 23, 2012
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The following letter was sent to local elected officials:

I am a resident of S. Huntington Avenue in Jamaica Plain, and I felt compelled to write to you about the poorly-handled Boston Redevelopment Authority approval process for the housing development at 161 S. Huntington Ave.

As I understand it, the developer, Boston Residential Group (BRG), originally submitted a project proposal in March, and at that time the BRA formed an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) to weigh in on the proposal. I understand that their role is merely advisory, but I question the purpose of even soliciting input given the outcome of the process.

In May, the Boston Landmarks Commission recommended that the developer seek out a compromise over opposition to the demolition of the historic structure. There has been no compromise; the structure will be demolished. Also in May, 11 of 13 members of the IAG signed a letter against the project.

BRG filed a revised proposal in August. In September, the BRA delayed voting on it, implying that it would not pass, and the BRA spokesperson expressed dissatisfaction with the revised proposal. The IAG expressed unanimous opposition to the revised proposal. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council zoning committee expressed unanimous opposition. The Boston Preservation Alliance expressed opposition. The BRA director publicly criticized the developer’s handling of community input.

Yet with no changes to the project, the BRA reversed its position and voted to approve the proposal on Oct. 18.

Setting aside the question of the merits and the tone of the criticism, which is admittedly a subjective debate, the opposition is clearly substantial, and has been channeled through both community organizations and institutions established by the City and the BRA for the specific purpose of soliciting community input. Nevertheless, the plan that was approved by the BRA was identical to that earlier deemed unsuitable by the BRA itself and unanimously objected to by the BRA’s own IAG, as well as numerous other groups.

If this is not enough to deter or delay approval, what would be? What is the point of the IAG, the JPNC or any other advisory committee? If the project is indeed worthy, where is the leadership?

Jonathan DeCoster

Jamaica Plain