Critics want Wu’s original zoning plan

To the Editor:

Jesse Kanson-Benanav’s letter to the editor (Feb. 15), which critiqued a letter I co-authored that was published in the Boston Guardian in its Jan. 5 edition, misidentified the causes of Boston’s current unacceptable state of housing and the mismatch between our new buildings and the needs of businesses, institutions, and residents.

The writer could easily discover through inquiries and research that the neighborhood leaders he excoriates are not at the origin of the kudzu-like overbuilding of biolabs that has been approved by the BPDA with no expertise-based evaluation of their risks and other potential consequences.

He could learn that in my Back Bay neighborhood the association of which I am the chair this year has argued that affordable housing units required by the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) linked to proposed development projects should be built on site. But developers have consistently preferred to pay money to have them built elsewhere, by someone else. We have no idea where this money ends up.

He could recognize the valuable initiatives with multi-neighborhood impact that members of neighborhood associations have played key roles in establishing over the years, such as the Boston Groundwater Trust and the Short-Term Rental ordinance passed in 2018.

This ordinance, spearheaded by then-Councillor Wu, was designed to protect the city from depletions in the stock of residential housing by investors swooping in to buying residential buildings and converting them to more profitable short-term rentals. Developers, not neighborhood associations, have been proposing luxury residences and biolabs beyond any conceivable justification.

Boston now has twice the “under construction” office space of Manhattan. Despite our objections, these buildings were approved by the BPDA, which obviously has not received the memo about our alleged “veto power.”

If he compared the findings and recommendations of then Councillor Wu’s 2019 report “Fixing Boston’s Broken Development Process” with the contents of the Home Rule Petition submitted to the Legislature in 2023 and the city ordinance submitted at the end of January, he might realize that both fall far short of meeting the hopes and expectations raised among Boston’s voters who supported her campaign. The BRA was created in 1960 and is well past its sell-by date.

We are not proposing to retain a status quo. We recognize that fundamental change is urgently needed and applaud the mayor for being the first one to take on this challenge. But we strongly disagree with the changes that are currently on the table. We advocate for reforms that will fulfill the aspirations and establish an equitable balancing of the interests of all stakeholders set forth in the 2019 report. Instead, the petition proposes the continuation of an authority with the same board and the same extraordinary powers. These powers have been repeatedly abused. Inevitably at some point or under some future mayor they will be again, absent adequate guardrails which are not being put in place.

- Martyn Roetter Chair
Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay

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