Columbia/Savin Hill civic wants to to leverage development boom

A sub-committee of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association is leading a discussion about how to structure and seek out “community benefits” from the development projects that are expected to be built in the neighborhoods in the coming years.

The question was discussed in depth at Monday evening’s general membership meeting at the Little House, which drew about 60 residents. Don Walsh, a key member of the sub-committee, explained that the concept is to be pro-active and let developers know what the civic group wants to see prioritized.

“Rather than deal piecemeal with the planning efforts, we need the community, city, and the state to come together. I can’t say this enough— we will be seeing 10,000 new housing units. That’s unbelievable,” he said.

On Nov. 26, the association sent letters to state and city elected officials requesting “cooperation and assistance in the creation of a planning team to develop a comprehensive response to the unprecedented current proposals for this area.” 

The missive, which was signed by Columbia-Savin Hill President Desmond Rohan, was sent to City Councillor Frank Baker, state Sen. Nick Collins, and state Reps. Dan Hunt and David Biele. Representatives from Collins’s and Baker’s’ offices and from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services were in attendance Monday night.

The association asserts that the roughly “10,000 new residential units, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of new retail and commercial space, will impact an area already densely populated, strain public services, and further overwhelm outmoded transportation infrastructure.” 

Walsh invited the membership to attend the next sub-committee meeting on Wed., Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in the basement of Savin Bar and Kitchen, saying, “We’re going to talk about the next steps after issuing this letter, and we’re also going to talk about issuing a survey.”

Rohan told the gathering that the sub-committee is particularly focused on how to leverage private funds for public improvements to transportation and infrastructure. “We need the state and city to be actively involved to start this process,” he said.

Ted Schwartzberg, a senior planner at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA, told the membership about ongoing planning efforts in Glover’s Corner, Newmarket Square, and Columbia Point. 

“I just want to pull back the curtain and let everyone know that the planners are thinking about this a lot,” he said. “We’re paying attention and there are some big projects coming.” He added that the BPDA is trying to ensure that major findings from the 2011 Columbia Point Master plan are supported.

“Since then, there has been a lot of talk about 75 Morrissey [the property adjacent to the former Globe building] and, of course, the Bayside site,” Schwartzberg said, “and we’re thinking about how to look at all of these projects collectively. The thought is that there will be one single Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for both the Bayside site and the 75 Morrissey proposal, seeking representation from elected officials and all of the civic associations.”

Longtime civic member Bruce Shatswell weighed in, saying, “A lot of people in this room and in this community took part in the Columbia Point Plan,” he said. “One of the reasons that the plan wasn’t enacted was because it never became [incorporated] into zoning. I just want you to take the message back that these things need to be spelled out and coded in law or regulations so that we know what we’re getting up front. It’s a huge matter of trust with the community.”

Responded Schwartzberg: “I couldn’t agree more that this needs to be codified in zoning.”

Civic group vice-president Eileen Boyle said she wanted to know why the city is selling its land to private developers. “I don’t understand why the city is basically selling the Mary Ellen McCormack project to a private developer for 100 years,” she said. “The taxpayers have funded those housing projects, and now they’re going to be turned over with mixed-use,” she added, asking: “Instead of the city developing the project themselves, why are they selling to private developers?”

Schwartzberg said the “short answer” is that older buildings, like many of Boston’s housing projects, eventually need to be rebuilt. “When public housing gets replaced, it needs to be paid for by the federal government,” he said. “The ideal way would be if Washington stepped up to the plate and paid for what they have historically been paying for, but they haven’t taken that responsibility.”

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