Mayor Walsh learns from China’s authoritarianism

Mayor Walsh seems to have learned about more than just climate change during his recent trip to China. Apparently, he also learned how to apply an authoritarian approach to land-use decisions. I am referring to the JP/ROX development plan, which is being rushed to adoption by the Boston Planning & Development Agency, while citizen concerns are largely being ignored.

The Plan: JP/ROX proposes enormous changes to Jamaica Plain and Roxbury by recommending zoning that will more than double today’s number of housing units and population density between Forest Hills and Jackson Square. Although there have been many protests about the plan not providing enough “affordable housing,” it has many other problems. For example, the pan is not supported by any traffic impact studies. Proposed building heights conflict with adjacent neighborhoods and create a “canyon effect,” including two zones reserved for 15-story residential towers. And even though the plan emphasizes the need to prevent households from being displaced by high housing costs, there is no mention of how many existing residents will be displaced when their homes are razed to make way for large new multi-unit buildings.

For months, BPDA has engaged neighborhood residents at a variety of public forums. The meetings were designed to give the appearance that the BPDA cares about the concerns of neighbors. But since then, there have been expedited comment periods for the draft and final plans and, according to the BPDA, it has no intention of responding to the hundreds of comments submitted by City residents on the final plan. By disregarding the concerns of the citizenry, the mayor’s approach has all the elements of authoritarian decision-making.

It’s ironic that this plan is being railroaded through to adoption in Jamaica Plain, which has a rich history of activists fighting to maintain the integrity of their neighborhoods. The BPDA board vote is Oct. 20, and on Nov. 16 the Boston Zoning Commission is scheduled to vote on the zoning changes recommended by the plan. So how will the 11-member Zoning Commission vote? Well, considering that 8 of the 11 members are hand-picked by Mayor Walsh and/or are connected to the building industry, it seems likely that the zoning changes will be approved.

Rather than have these critical quality-of-life decisions made by the Mayor, the BPDA, and a handful of special interests, the future of this area should be determined through a much more democratic and transparent process, where everyone has an equal voice and is allowed to participate in a meaningful way. It is my sincere wish that, through legal appeals, the BPDA will ultimately fail to impose this high-density development plan on the residents of JP and Roxbury. And that, come November 2017, Mayor Walsh will have to answer to voters for his exclusionary approach to making neighborhood decisions.

Henry Barbaro

Jamaica Plain resident


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