City Council meeting, December 15, 2004
Docket No. 1444 Message and order for hearing on community development in the city of Boston
Transcription of videotape by Shirley Kressel
May 30, 2005
Councilor Kelly: The last 10 days, maybe two weeks, has been a very time-consuming period to address the urban renewal matter before the body. Today was probably the most interesting day in my political career. I think we have reached an agreement that -- based on the past 21 years of my being here and I'm sure for the 15 years of our predecessors before that, where certain agreements had been reached with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, where there was a partnership established with the members of the city council going back when some of these urban renewal plans had been originally approved, some as far back as 40 years ago; that partnership over the years had been lost. The BRA had assumed the attitude that nobody particularly cared as to what they were doing except some people who were somewhat disgrunted [sic]. Members of the city council probably did not know the powers that they had relative to reasonable oversight of the BRA’s activities; so what had occurred over the years was a gap where there was a lot of complaining, a lot of hand-wringing, but very little dialogue between members of the city council and the BRA. I fault the BRA, but I also fault members of the city council including myselves [sic] who never rolled up our sleeves and did the work that I think was required.
In the meantime we all had suspicions that an awful lot of secret things were going on up at the BRA but I think if we had taken the time to ask questions and demand answers it probably would have relieved some of our frustration and suspicions. But they existed up until probably yesterday at least with me and I do not blame any member of this body that does not agree with the level of comfort that I feel, and I am one to want to have trust in people, but I also want to verify to make sure that what is going on is real.
I think I've reached that point and I'm hoping that before this evening is over, all of my colleagues will feel the same way. What we did was to take something that didn't work and I think created the tools to make it work. For example, for the first time the BRA has agreed -- and I want to commend a number of people for their involvement in all this, and before I forget to do that I just want to thank, first of all, all of the counselors for their input. Last week we sat in President Flaherty’s office -- separate groups in respect to the Open Meeting Law -- and everyone agreed that if they have any major problems they would bring them to me or I’m sure if they did not have the opportunity to do that they would make their positions known here this evening and that's fine; but for those counselors that did take the time to stop by my office, to write me a note, to meet in President Flaherty’s office, I think all of you deserve my sincere appreciation and I think, as time goes on, the appreciation of people from every neighborhood in the city. I want to thank the members of the development community that called our offices – I’m sure you guys received calls, as you girls did -- with their perspective. I particularly want to thank members of the Boston Building Trades, some of them are here this evening, Joe Nigro who was general president of the Boston building trades, other people, electricians, carpenters and laborers that were here during the course of the day, I know they contacted our office as well and I thank them for their perspective. I particularly want to thank the following city councilors, because they sat down and we kicked this thing around, we went back and forth and it was really a great example of how you get to where you want to be and you don't get there very easily, there’s a lot of agreement and disagreement and anguish and walking out and all that stuff that that goes with negotiations. Councilor Michael Ross, Councilor Paul Scapicchio, the vice-chairman of the committee, Councilor Maureen Feeney, Councilor Jerry McDermott, Councilor Bob Consalvo, Councilor John Tobin, and also councilor Murphy who is laid up with a bad back. Also I want to thank the representatives of the BRA, Mark Maloney, who was really great, Harry Collings, attorney Rebecca Lee and Amy Dwyer from the Mayor's office. But there are two individuals who deserve special praise, one is Council President Michael Flaherty, and President Flaherty I thank you for your patience, your support of the committee chair, and I also want to thank with the same amount of gratitude Michael Kinneavy. Michael Kinneavy is new in the position of policy director for the mayor's office of the city of Boston and I have never seen someone who was new to the job act like such a veteran and with respect for everything we were trying to accomplish. I really have to point out that Michael Kinneavy was just great during this process and Tom Menino is very fortunate to have Michael Kinneavy. I also have to thank Ann Hess for her patience, and a couple of guys that really lived up to expectations, one is Paul Walkowski from my staff who's been in my office for over 30 years, my legislative aide; and Paul Koch, on behalf of all the members of the council, thank you for your determination and dedication.
Let me see if I can briefly explain what I consider some of the real meaningful benefits. There is an absolute commitment from the BRA, and people like Harry Collings and Mark Maloney when they look into the eyes of the city council and guarantee that some things can happen I feel good that they're going to be making some changes in the way things have been in the past; and they are going to, any time there's something meaningful, not only a major modification but even a minor modification, are going to give the council a 30 days notice, at which time the members of the city council, if they wish, can conduct public hearings, they can do whatever they wish to bring attention to what the BRA is proposing to do; there's a guarantee that the BRA will not take any action within that 30 day period. And if they do take any action it will be null and void. That I think is a major, major step. Bear in mind that you can have all the language put into legislation that you want but unless you're willing to roll up your sleeves and work to make this a success all is for naught. I for one am hopeful that all my colleagues feel the same way, that we're going to make it our business to be more on top of things than we have and that our predecessor councilors were in the past.
So there's an agreement also by the BRA that they're willing to come before the Boston City Council at whatever appropriate time and I would suspect as early as February of 2005, and explain to those counselors that are interested as to what is in these urban renewal plans that we are approving by extending them today, what was in the original plans, an update to where we are at the present time and where we're going in the future; all of us will become more acclimated as to what all of this urban renewal plan information is and we can act accordingly. There’s also a number of lot of other items and I know that some of my colleagues who were part of the process want to add to what I’m saying.
But one final note is that is some of the people called our offices concerned that if the counselors got everything they want, everything that they've read about in the newspapers, would that be adding another layer of bureaucracy to the development process? That's a legitimate question; but it's more a matter of perception than anything else, but the perception is that developers coming to city hall have to go through a maze of bureaucracy and a lot of projects get delayed. What we did as part of our agreement to extend the urban renewal plans -- rather than 2013, there's an agreement that they be extended to -- I believe it’s 2015, is that right? -- with the understanding that the BRA will make it their business to have an internal inspection of the way that they conduct business -- can they do things in a more effective, a better manner, more efficient manner, so that some of these good positive projects that are going to eliminate the blight from the neighborhoods, take properties and put them on the tax rolls, construction jobs, permanent jobs, all those good things -- is there a better way that the BRA can accomplish that. I say that there's a better way; Mark Maloney is in agreement that there's a better way. So it'll make developers and organized labor and the taxpayers of the city of Boston, will make the neighborhood residents feel a lot better that the BRA has made a commitment that they will do that in a very timely way.
So those are just some of the highlights of what has been agreed upon. I'm hoping that to those counselors that did not avail themselves of those discussions will have the opportunity to express their viewpoints but also I'm hoping that you are willing to put in your mind some of things that I've said, some of things that my colleagues will be saying.
Arroyo: Mr. Chair, this that was submitted to us is very different to what was submitted to the committee and I object to it. It is a new resolution submitted to this council.
Michael Flaherty: I know your objection; pursuant to Rule 33 this an amended version. The chair recognizes councilor Kelly.
Kelly: I'm asking for substitution of the committee order. The chair grants that.
The chair recognizes councilor Chuck Turner.
Turner: I would suggest that we would convene a “committee of the whole” hearing. As I read through it and try to understand what it means I’m having great difficulty; for example, the issue of the taking, in one part it seems to imply that the council would have the authority to rule on whether land would be taken, in another part it's unclear. I think there are enough new issues in this that while it’s being accepted as a substitute ordinance that we should not move forward unless we give every council member a chance to ask the questions that very legitimately flow from seeing a document that has a number of clauses and aspects that we have never discussed before. I think it would be totally improper for us to take a vote today without such a committee of the whole hearing. Thank you.
Flaherty: Thank you. Council will have a brief recess. Councilors Turner and Kelly please approach the dais. Please make space available for representatives of the BRA. We will have a 20 minute committee of the whole, for counselors who have any unanswered questions for the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Flaherty: It is now five minutes before 6:00 p.m. This committee hearing will begin and will conclude at 6:15. We are now joined by councilor Chuck Turner. Given that we have time constraints I will allow the BRA a one minute opening and then we will turn the chair over to questions. Any councilor who wishes to ask a question, signal by turning on your light.
Maloney: I’ll be very brief to give people an opportunity to ask questions. The issue of urban renewal is a very important issue for the city of Boston to give us the opportunity to continue to grow this city in an effective and balanced way; we've asked for an extension of our urban renewal plans for 19 urban renewal areas. We have come to understand that in the past there have been concerns raised by the city councils about appropriate information and prior warning about our ability to act. We’ve come up with a comprehensive approach to making certain that this council has the opportunity to know what were thinking about, to have an opportunity to respond to what we’re thinking about, and to have a public process relative to our intent to act. We recognize that we need to maintain the authority’s powers and tools so we can continue to do the community development work that we do, but we also recognize that we need to do that in a better partnership with this council. And we believe that what you have before you articulates that clearly and fairly and will in fact lead to a very important new day where we’re working much more effectively and efficiently to continue to develop Boston with the city council.
Flaherty: the chair recognizes councilor Turner.
Turner: thank-you. In Section one, clause 1 where you describe the changes to the city council, one, the submission of certain planned changes to the city council for approval, that is the proposed termination or adoption of an urban renewal plan. Is the BRA planning to add new urban renewal plans?
Maloney: we do not have at the present time a plan to add them; however we did not want to exclude the opportunity to add them should the council or the city wish to focus the tools of economic development on a particular area. In our conversations with counselors as we have been talking about this renewal for the last 18 or so months the possibility of new plans in a general conceptual sense has been raised which is why we thought it was important to identify that as a significant change that would be something that this council would be able to review and approve.
Turner: The next phrase says the addition of additional land whether publicly or privately owned to an urban renewal area--does that mean land that would be taken by eminent domain if it was in an urban renewal area would be subject to a vote of the council?
Maloney: it would mean if the boundaries that are currently in place for an urban renewal Plan district were to be expanded, whether to use eminent domain or whether to expand for acquisition in other ways, or just to incorporate into the planning process, we would come back to the board for approval. It is not however meant to ask for the board -- the council's approval of eminent domain.
Turner: I'm confused perhaps I missed something in the statement. Because it talking about adding land to expand the plan by eminent which might be by eminent domain ...
Maloney: we talk later in that list about eminent domain as a specific issue. All this point is meant to reflect is that if we were to plan a larger district by expanding the boundaries, we would come to this board for approval.
Turner: and if that boundary was to be expanded through eminent domain, then the council would have the authority to approve or disapprove that expansion through eminent domain?
Maloney: that’s not the intent of that language. The intent is to focus on the plan’s boundary being expanded.
Turner: so you're saying that if the council voted down the addition of the land then there would be no basis of taking a step for eminent domain, and that's why you’re making the distinction?
Maloney: the purpose of this first section is to try to move toward a better understanding of what a major modification would be to an urban renewal plan….
Turner: But I’m talking about the language of the modification that says: the addition of additional land whether publicly or privately owned- since private land if it was added to a plan would be taken by eminent domain it seems to me that your saying that any intention to expand the eminent domain is under the decision of the council. What I’m afraid of is that there's a potential contradiction between that clause and the fact that we only get 30 days' notice and no approval power, so more specifically the question is, if the BRA intends to add to an urban renewal area through the addition of private land which would have to be taken by eminent domain, then I would assume that we would be voting on whether we would approve an eminent domain taking.
Maloney: No, that's not right and that’s not meant to be what were trying to incorporate. what we’re saying is, if a plan’s boundary, regardless of ownership, if a plan’s boundary is expanded, whether that incorporates by boundary publicly or privately owned land, we would come to this board. The issue of eminent domain is not a portion of that conversation. We’ve talked about eminent domain later on in the resolution, in the order. In other words we can expand the boundary without acquiring a property, whether it's public or private. Just drawing a line, with the council approval, not necessarily purchasing or acquiring property.
Turner: thank-you. Let me allow other counselors to raise their questions and I’ll come back later with others I have.
Felix arroyo: First of all I want to make clear that in November 15, 2004 I sent to you as the director of the BRA a letter with a series of questions that were never acknowledged or answered. And the three main questions which I’m sure it will not be possible to answer now but will want to be on the record to refresh your mind about the letter. Number one: what land does the BRA still own and control within the urban renewal plans you have asked the city council to extend? And we asked for a list of all parcels sorted by plan at that point. the second question was, the BRA has repeatedly stated that despite best efforts several of the plan renewal actions, design objectives and other purposes remain incomplete. Could you elaborate and further explain specifically what goals and objectives remain to be completed and what tools the BRA needs to maintain in these urban renewal areas-- of course, I wanted a list of objectives sorted by plans. And the third was, does the BRA have a legal opinion of what would happen to land within an expired urban renewal plans that is owned a controlled by the BRA. Would title to this property revert to the city of Boston? We sent this to you on November 15th. To date I have had no answer, not even to tell me if that information was possible to have. I think that was enough time for information that of course you should have regarding these plans. For me it's very hard to make a decision that we don't have complete clarity on. I know you worked through the committee, although I have no idea if this information has been sent to any other member of the counsel although I did a written request for it. And I really believe that one of the problems I would have with this, is that if this is to renew the urban renewal at least that you have here, in order for us to take a vote, it seems very difficult for us to get any kind of information; several of the provisions that you have here give thirty days. This is 30 days after it wrote my letter and did not even receive an acknowledgement. Several of the things in that order have already been asked by councilor Turner; but the first one does not refer to the present 19 urban renewal plans we are asked to approve an extension of, but to potential future ones. And then the others are just to inform the council -- simply to inform, which is something that I thought you should be willing to do anyway, it should not be a part of an ordinance to do that. This is all concomitant to you asking the board to approve this on December 21st; so for me these issues that are here ---I did try to do a resolution today that had to do with the ability of communities to have hearings and work with you in terms of these urban renewal plans in order for them to continue. And I don't see that here. Is there any reason why that's not a part of this?
Maloney: Let me try to respond to the issues that you've raised. We will be glad to make a copy of the response that was sent to that letter, I’m sorry that you yourself didn't get a copy. My staff will bring it down. We have provided information along those lines to the committee and will be glad to provide you with copies of the information we did provide to the committee on that, on what property is owned by the BRA in those plans, by plan area. We have been working with the committee to talk about that. We have also talked about the issue of notice and made a significant concession allowing a significant notice period for public debate and public hearing perhaps -- that would be this body's decision -- to any substantial change. So we have heard that and are offering that we would be willing to do that to because we would like to make the process of urban renewal, the process of community development, an even more open process. We have been working the fact for the past 4 1/2 years and we think we've made some progress in agreeing to this advance notice, we think we will make a significant change in the way urban renewal is implemented.
Charles Yancey: Mr. Chairman, with all due respect I believe that we should not vote on this matter today; however I do have a number of questions that perhaps the director can respond to. What's the length of an urban renewal plan?
Maloney: The plans vary, councilor. There are some that do not have defined ends and others that…. Typically they are in the neighborhood of 40 years.
Yancey: In fact most of them are about 40 years is that correct?
Maloney: yes, that is correct
Yancey: why should the Boston City Council approve plans which are more than 40, in some cases almost 40 years, old without being informed of what's contained in those plans and brought up-to-date in terms of the necessity of extending the plans as is suggested? In some cases you're seeking more than eight years of extension, and I just want to know what your rationale is to make that request of us before this body is briefed. The chair of this committee has worked very very hard and obviously is committed to seeing this issue addressed tonight, but he also indicated that sometime in January or February the counselors will be briefed on the very plans we're being asked to extend now. Why don't we wait until after we're briefed on them before we vote on them?
Maloney: Several reasons. First of all, the plans are active and dynamic, they are amended on a regular basis; notification of those amendments are provided to the council. We're proposing to provide notification of our intent to amend in advance so there can be an even more public process but in the past those notifications have been made. So we have been working with a development tool that has continued the over the 40- year life to serve the city well as an opportunity to expand our tax base and respond to the physical needs of the committees at large. What we have agreed to do further is to sit down with members of the Council who are interested in each individual plan, and to bring them up to date on a comprehensive way as opposed to what we have always done by reporting our amendments so that we have a better and fuller understanding with those who are interested in particular plans, and against that we would on an annual basis come back and provide a similar reporting process, so that we as the as a team and looked at expansion of the plan, elimination of the plan, changes to the plan that might be appropriate, so that you're aware in advance of what our thinking might be.
Yancey: But why vote on it before we're briefed? Some of these plans as I mentioned are very old; they may no longer be relevant to the kind of economic and political and physical conditions that existed when the plan was put together. I've been here as a chair and good councilor from Jamaica Plain for more than 20 years and during that time we've had a half-dozen different directors, and it seems that the BRA from time to time is almost isolated, insulated, from community input. I’m raising what I think is a legitimate question in terms of the voting on extending plans that many of us may not even be familiar with. And when we take a vote, it's not just a vote for our district. this is a vote that's going to impact the entire city of Boston for, in some cases, an additional eight years. And we're being asked to vote on it before weren't fully informed in terms of what the existing plans are and the necessity of continuing certain urban renewal plans. The other question I have is that the order calls upon on the director to take certain steps to seek approval from the BRA board of directors. We're being asked to vote on this matter before the BRA even acts on the very issues that are included within the proposal and I don't think that's appropriate either. I think we should have a board vote stating these things are clearly that these things are going to be done before we take a vote and we welcome the directors response to that comment. It seems that in many cases what was requested of us is we’re asked to put the cart before the horse on a number of these issues.
Maloney: We have both at a hearing here and at the Boston redevelopment Authority reviewed each of the individual renewal plans both bodies looking both at what we have accomplished already and what might be expected to be able to be accomplished in the future so we have done a plan by plan review and we’ve committed to do an even more in-depth review for those who are interested. In addition, an important point to make is that were not we’re not asking to change the plans; we're only asking to extend the existing plants and we are agreeing to give you the opportunity for much more public input relative to those plans so that we to in fact do make sure that we respond to you an the community.
Hennigan: Section one -- councilor Turner spoke to in the approval on the additional land. Just so I’m clear: the city council would have the ability to approve boundaries being added, but if including additional land called for eminent domain, if we were to oppose eminent domain, then we should vote against adding the boundaries, and that would prevent, if it were a majority vote of the council, the eminent domain taking place at all?
Maloney: It would not. What we're asking for quite clearly is the ability to get approval from the council to expand a plan area; we are not speaking about the acquisition of property in that point number one at all.
Hennigan: So if the land was not added, the BRA could use its own tool of taking eminent domain outside the district. So this doesn't affect the council's ability to have any control over the B R A. using eminent domain powers, whether it's within urban renewal or outside urban renewal. Because further down, when we talk about in Section 3, providing the city councilors least 30 days for any opposed eminent domain taking of city-owned land in excess of 10,000 square feet, that would deal only with city-owned land and not to privately owned land, so if we were looking to try to protect private property owners who are having their land taken against their will, this would not do that. And we can't do it up above because even if we voted not to include the land the BRA could come and take it anyway under its eminent domain power. Is that correct ?
Maloney: That's correct.
Hennigan: the other issue what you also say here, to reiterate that same line again: any proposed eminent domain taking of city-owned land, in excess of 10,000 square feet-- does that refer to one parcel, a 10,000 square foot parcel or could you take several smaller parcels and added up- do you mean a sum total or would it refer to one particular parcel. Would this refer to something 10,000 and over but would not refer to something that would add up to over 10,000. Is that correct?
Maloney: that's correct.
And again: If were trying to prevent the BRA from assembling a number of parcels and which would then be over 10,000 square feet because we thought that was inappropriate this would not protect us is that right?
Maloney: that's right; this clause is intended address the large number of eminent domain takings that we take to perfect title, to allow for cornice easements to be taken so that the building can be built as people have approved it under article 80, and those are typically smaller areas than 10,000 square feet. Major parcels would be larger and then fall under this notification process.
Hennigan: The Globe editorial yesterday to day or yesterday felt that we should move forward with urban renewal district renewal unless we had reason to question BRA decision-making. And for the record, and it's said respectfully, I do question it, I question procedures, secretiveness, the individual dialogues that go one with private property owners, confidential agreements the people have to sign on the dotted line and not to say anything about it even though even though their livelihood --way back in the old days, being a property owner really meant to had status and stature -- to take that away is a really big deal so I'm very concerned about those kind of decisions which to go on, I know they go on because I’ve seen them, I’ve seen the documents. I appreciate many of the improvements I’ve seen articulated in this agreement and some of these things are very good and I appreciate the work that was done. But I just want everyone to be aware based on the questions I and my colleagues have made, this does some stuff but there's a lot of stuff is does not so which denies people their property, and they don't have the recourse to come to us for assistance on that and I think that's a real problem and I just want for the record to be very clear on that because it is such an important issue.
Maloney: I do think we address that in a couple of ways. First of all eminent domain activity is a very very public activity. We provide votes of our intent to take and work very carefully with parties from whom we are going to take when they can be identified to try to achieve an appropriate balance as to what they think of their value and the actual value; we are required to provide the actual value of what the property is to the owner of the property and it's done in public. This change will not only continue that but allow this council to know well in advance of our intentions so that you can also be engaged.
Hennigan: The landowners in Dudley, you did not give them notice.
Maloney: Yes, we have in fact through a public action at our board given them that notice .
Hennigan: I talked to one of the property owners today, and he was not given notice. So as for the record I want people to be very clear on why I had such ongoing concerns about the way this happens; with all due respect I had a conversation with him this morning.
Maloney: we have signed agreements with both parties so ...
Hennigan: you have a confidential agreement signed with one party. The other party indicated that he had not been having discussions, and this was all news to him. I can only say what I've been told by the person who obviously has the most to lose.
Maloney: I suggest that we have in fact had those conversations and maybe they had a misunderstanding but we been engaged with them.
Flaherty: By agreement we have agreed to go at 20 after six. I allow the chair and also the maker of the motion for the committee as a whole to get a one minute wrap-up and then will reconvene our regularly scheduled meeting.
Kelly: I want to take this opportunity to thank Harry and particularly Mark for their what I consider remarkable progress in reestablishing a better communication between the BRA and its job and the city council and the way we view our responsibility as well. I just want to mention that there are three other people who played a role behind the scenes: Joe Slavet, who you are familiar with and a gentleman named Bernie Borman and Jackie McBride of the park plaza civic advisory committee and she had sent me a letter with three suggestions and those three suggestions -- without having read her letter first --- those three suggestions that she has mentioned are all part of what has been agreed to and I thank Jackie McBride for making those suggestions to me the other day; they were part of what is the ultimate agreement.
Also Mark if you just touch on ever so briefly the commitment by the BRA to look in house to make sure that future projects that are worthy of support not only from elected officials but from the residence that they will be, not to put these proposals on the fast track, but try as best we can to dispel the perception out there that product to getting delayed in the bureaucratic maze and that kind of talk -- that we’re going try to do better to get those projects online as quickly as possible based on the fact that there is considerable support from a number of people.
Maloney: Mayor Menino has in fact directed the permitting agencies of the city to convene and work together to create a much more streamlined permitting process, one where not so many obstacles have to be overcome, not so many reviews have to be done but maybe they can be done comprehensively. Internally at the BRA, we took very seriously your concern. We don't want to slow down a good project that has support just because of it’s a bureaucratic series and we will do a careful review of our article 80 just to make sure that we can to expedite those projects which deserve attention because they're already responsive to the community's needs.
Felix arroyo: I just want to clarify that I just received a copy of the answer to my questions, dated November 19th and I’m going to share this with my colleagues. This has a list of properties that are under your domain; there's a couple of troublesome areas, for example that none of this would be rolled back to the city if the renewal piece is expired, and that will probably be the subject of future discussions. But I did receive a list of properties: I expect that it is a complete list so I do acknowledge that you submitted a response.
Ross: I have a lot of institutions in my district and it’s a constant battle for me and I actually work with the BRA, Tom Miller and Harry to rein in some of that and I appreciate that. But this Item 5, it says using best efforts to ... I wonder if you could flesh that out for me a little bit more: I flag it because it's important to me and I just wanted to raise it here today.
Maloney: One of the reasons it did that particular example is that one might have been able to say that a conversion of a multi family development, a multi family rental project, to a dormitory was really a continuation of residential use. And we flag that one in particular to make it clear that if it were an institution creating a dormitory we saw that it is as a change of use and it needed special consideration.
Yancey: On point No. 3 providing the city council at least 30 days' notice of eminent domain taking of city-owned land in excess of 10,000 square feet, part of my concern with the BRA of course is the action that was taken concerning government center, without any action on the part of the city council and I still think that was inappropriate. This still says to provide 30 days' notice. Is anyone suggesting that the city council will need to approve any such taking, and if not what real authority if any does the city council have with regard to these takings?
Maloney: the Boston Housing Authority and the BRA have the state sanction to be the eminent domain agencies for the city and as such we maintain that that is something that's vested in us. We want to make it a more transparent and open process by having your input and therefore are providing opportunity for significant comment in advance, but we're not giving up the powers that we think are so important to the continuation of an effective urban renewal program that really builds the communities in which all our residents live and work.
Yancey: Mr. Chairman do you think it's appropriate for the BRA to take the government center property without approval by the Boston City Council?
Maloney: I am certain that it was legal. The issue of how to better – how to learn from the experience is that we have offered in this instance, in instances like that, to enter a dialogue well in advance of doing that.
Turner: Could you specifically state what are the specific powers that you would lose if the urban renewal plans are not renewed.
Maloney: I think most important is the issue of focus. We have identified these communities and these plan areas as areas that have long range goals for build out and development and as such would focus on them. This provides us an opportunity to have ongoing communication with the community and with the development community where they know that it's a goal of ours to fulfill those plans overtime.
Turner: that's the only ...?
Maloney: That's our principal focus, that's our principal concern.
Turner: your principal concern is that that the urban renewal plans stay in place because by staying in place that enables you to look more carefully at the development areas?
Maloney: it actually provides guidance to the residents of the community, and the developers who might be interested in the community that these are areas where the BRA is committed to building out that according to that plan. The plans give us some flexibility in order to do that and we believe that that focus, that message, is a message that is focused on appropriate growth in conjunction with the community’s interest.
Turner: just a brief comment: Over the last 40 years through the use of the urban renewal money to buy land and the leasing of that land to developers the BRA has developed a base of revenue that enables you to continue to exist without the financial assistance of the city council, so when you say that you need these plans to continue to exist so you can have focus, it seems to me that the moneys that are coming in to you because of the existence of the UR plans and the leases that you let through those plans and the monies that are coming to you certainly gives you everything that you need continue your focus. Thank you very much.
Scapicchio: I can say what I need to say during the regular session.
Flaherty: the committee of all is now adjourned thank you Mark Maloney and Harry Collings. And we will resume with the regularly scheduled hearing.
Paul Scapicchio: I'm somebody who thinks and feels that the city really needs the tools of urban renewal, that they have been a success. I think we've been dealing with urban renewal for the past 40 years, certainly there have been successes and one only needs to look at the downtown area that in the 1950’s was blighted, a place where people were leaving. If you look at it today it's a thriving downtown, the envy of people throughout the country. We've also had our failures. We had the West Bend, some people would say the New York's streets, and some other areas that maybe weren't handled as well. Today we’re moving from the past into the present and hopefully towards the future and I think what we have a chance to do as the city and as a city council along with the BRA is to focus on that future. And to focus on new developments such as life sciences, smart growth, economic development, and today hopefully, I think, it's not a perfect scenario but whenever you have negotiations, the best negotiations end with both sides feeling like they didn't get everything but we can live with it. What we did today is we created some transparency. We got a 30 day notice provision which councilor Kelly and many of the counselors felt was very important. And I think it is very important to have a chance for the first time to see some of the urban renewal actions before they take place rather than what's happened of the past 40 years which is to get notice after a BRA board vote has been taken. I think that’s very important. We’ve also delineated for the first time what a major versus a minor change has been. Councilor Kelly and the other counselors have said, you know, we started at 5% and now it's 7.5%, but basically what we decided is that in any urban renewal area, if we’re going have a change that amounts to more than 7% of that urban renewal area of the area within that urban zone it will be a major change. And I think that is a very objective standard, it's the first time we have something like that. Finally we’re going to have some updates, a yearly update, from the director of the BRA and I think that's terrific. He is going to talk about what's happened in the past year what's going to happen, what moneys have come in, what the plans are going forward, that's very healthy for the city. And as we’ve said, transparency is what we've all been talking about, you know, is this nebulous agency something that, you know, can we ever figure out what they're doing, we finally have some light shining and through the cooperation of Mark Maloney and Harry Collings and the light, we have that today.
I just want to talk about the tools of urban renewal, why they are important, there are a couple of things that they do. Obviously the eminent domain takings are very important for certain, putting pieces of land together and putting parcels together, but I think also one of the things that I think the BRA is able to do is clear title on parcels of land that have been clouded; the titles have been clouded for years and years and basically they’re undevelopable . Sometimes the owners have been dead for years, sometimes there are easement problems and issues that you couldn't get at through any means other than years of litigation and years in the court system so allowing the BRA, allowing the city to have those tools, is important and is something that's going to help us continue to be a city that can reinvent itself and move toward the future and when you see things like the Zakim Bridge and the new Greenway and you see all it can happen in the city of Boston you realize that it doesn't happen on its own, it takes planning, it takes execution, and it takes agencies that have the ability and the resources to do so. So I rise Mr. President to support the chair in all that he's done, and he's worked really hard as he always has and I’d like to also thank all my colleagues who have taken the time to really roll up their sleeves on this issue and hopefully will have a vote on this this evening. thank you.
Consalvo: I rise to offer my support for this legislation. I plan to vote for this piece of legislation and the extension of the urban renewal. I support the chair on the great work that he's done on this and I want to commend him for the hours that he's put in on this. Mr. President, I really believe that urban renewal is extremely important for the city, it's important for the economic vitality of the city, it's important for the working men and women of labor who work so hard in the city, it's important for the city to move forward and grow and the BRA has and needs those powers to be able to do that. I've said all along Mr. president that if there are problems with this legislation, or if we as members or as a body have problems with the BRA then we should address it and we should work together in partnership and try to get those issues addressed, and this legislation does that, this has come so far from where we were before and that's thanks to the great work of the BRA and chairman of the committee Jim Kelly and Amy Dwyer and Michael Kinneavy. We should try to work to get those issues addressed but we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater, we shouldn't throw out the good because there is some bad—we should fix the bad, get the problem solved and then vote to extend these urban renewal plans, they are too important to the city not to do that, and I urge my colleagues to all vote in favor of this.
Hennigan: I do want to thank my good colleague the councilors from South Boston and from the north end because they got have really initiated all dialogue, and dialogue is something that is always very important and very grateful for that, I think people benefits when they have more information and more knowledge. They say knowledge is power; nothing could be more true, and that is why based on the knowledge over the years that I've seen over the years and I have seen good things that the BRA has gone, to have many wonderful people who work very very hard and worked on development in my district when I was a district councilor and all across the city.
But this document does not address the bad things the BRA does and the thing that is the most troubling to me is the continued use of eminent domain on not only on public property but on private property. And it's amazing to me that the initiative that was announced the day before this vote is to be taken under the aegis of helping the people in the Dudley area, could happen on its own if the BRA just worked with property owners, worked with the community, instead of having secret meetings behind closed doors –the smoke-filled rooms may be gone but unfortunately this still goes on, agreements that property owners are not allowed to talk about, the intimidation -and I mean that most sincerely-- that if you don't do what we want we will just take your land away from you and it's too bad if you don't like that, and the lack of dialogue that occurs, people find out by hearing rumors, by reading it in the newspapers, and still they do it under the guise of helping the community, when they could still hoped the community if they just worked with the private property owners in those neighborhoods. So that's why I have a real problem with this because it doesn't address the real problem, that continue to this day, went on yesterday and the day before, will continue to go on, and it is so said they would try to use a neighborhood and pretend that something is something that it is not. So I will not be voting for this. I think it is sad that we have to approve all of these plans, whether or they are up for renewal, and just give this blanket support today which I cannot do. Thank you.
Turner: To avoid the mistakes of the past you need to know what has happened in the past. My understanding of the history of the development of the BRA is that up until World War Two Boston was a thriving industrial city; we had a very active port and we had industries. After the war, the business community made the decision to change the focus to change Boston into a city that would be a financial center –some say because they did not want to deal with the unions that are in an industrial city so they moved away from that. But there was a problem because of the city council's authority and what was done was to get a very compliant counsel under Mayor Hines to approve the BRA legislation that went up to the statehouse and effectively took power away from the city council by design through the interests of the business community, to make decisions around how the city would be developed. 50 years later, we have developed as the city. I think it's time to restore the power of the people, to the council, into the development process. I think that's appropriate and I think it's needed. The other reason I’m going to vote against making extensions is that, for the life of me, no one has explained very specifically what powers are being lost. We have a report here that says the land will continue to be in the BRA hands after urban renewal lapses, they aren’t going to lose eminent domain powers as they just said. And in terms of clearing title, they have a cash flow that will continue decades into the future because of their use of urban renewal money to create leases which is giving them capital every year to operate without any of our funds so they obviously have money to hire lawyers to look at issues of title. There's no reason to pass this. The interest of restoring the will of the people, and the voice of the people, to the process is a reason for my perspective to vote against it. thank you.
Yancey: 40 years is a long time, and to grant these extensions without having an understanding of what these 19 urban renewal plans are, I challenge any one of my colleagues to tell me that they understand what the existing plants are. I just don't think it's reasonable to ask the city council to do that. It's much more appropriate is what the good chair suggested. At least have a thorough briefing of the existing plants and after that is done we can have some decisions whether or not which of the plans we consider are obsolete or right on target. But to grant extensions without having that information I don't think is appropriate for this body to do. Certainly if I made a proposal that you to vote on something before you have an understanding of it, I know that vote would come down. No question. Even if you had that information, I still know how the vote’s going to come down. Everybody here knows that we need a high-school but we know what happened, and speaking of high schools, does the BRA actually and the mayor of Boston, made an announcement concerning disposition of property without going through any community process? So what confidence does that give the public that if we grant these extensions that the input from the public will be more respective that it has been to date in many cases. So I have enormous respect for the chair of this committee. I do believe we need to promote economic development in the city of Boston, my background is actually in economic development; but I also believe there's a role for the Boston City Council to play, not simply to be notified but to be real partner in this development effort and this extension does nothing to make us genuine partners and believe potential still exists for this body to be treated as an afterthought at best. I don't believe we should pass on urban renewal plans that we don't even understand.
McDermott: I rise first to commend the chairman of the committee who I think has done an unbelievable job and I think he's restored a lot of credibility to the city council, and I give this body, I give my colleagues a lot more respect. People asked me before today were we going to get our pound of flesh from the BRA director and if you looked at Mark Maloney today he looks like he lost more than a few pounds so I think we did our job. I think that a new day is dawning in Boston where this behemoth, this BRA that is some somewhat unwieldy, has got a bit of a leash on it now. when we speak we represent the people of the city of Boston and that message was loud and clear to director Maloney. In fairness to the director he did acknowledge sins of the past, perhaps former directors and former members of this council have had clashes –the history hasn't always been a good one. But I think there has to be an element of trust going forward and I for one feel we have done a good job going forward and if you look at this closely there is tougher language in here; we have gained more assurances for this body and therefore for the citizens that we represent. And it is not lost on the director or the board of the BRA that we stand for election every two years and the mayor stands for election every four years and we're responsible at the end of the day to the people the city of Boston. I think the BRA is being granted some awesome tools here but they’re tools that are necessary. They are awesome powers but I for one in my district can tell you that dealing with Harvard University we need the BRA to have these tools, we need te leverage we’re going to gain by passing this and the clock is ticking; for example No. Harvard urban renewal plan runs out next week, 27th of the month, we have 213 units of housing over on their Western Avenue I've talked to the administration –we’d like to see double that number restored; if Harvard covets that property wants to come to the table we now have the leverage through the BRA to have a better hand, if you will, in dealing with Harvard who as you all know like a the crimson tide has come across the river into Boston and there has been no stopping them -- they gobbled 91 acres in the blink of an eye. So while some people out there think the BRA is a bully I can tell you that Harvard is a bigger bully . I am glad to have the BRA on my side and it's going to be on the side of the people of North Allston and Brighton going forward. I intend to support for this and I ask all my colleagues to do the same.
Arroyo: I want to thank the chair of the committee for bringing this to a conclusion today, particularly because I know he was able to work with many of the councilors and members of the BRA to try to accommodate the different concerns that were there in the process. My concern with this as I mentioned to him as he tried to update me as well on in this as he did with others, is that this is too short and too little and too late. It doesn't really give us any process of accountability on the government areas, it doesn't it return to the city --doesn't clarify that even if this doesn't happen they won't return those properties to the city of Boston, and there are many of them, which over -- some of them 40 years some of them 30 years some of them 20 years, have been there without being used, without providing the city with any kind of tax, without any kind of development; actually the market would probably do a lot of development on those properties if we were able to dispose of them but they are there doing nothing. Yes, there are several projects in which the BRA was an intermediary or a part of, but there are many that were done without it and they are as important, like Quincy Market and the Prudential center so it doesn't necessarily point to me that that would not happen if it were not involved; on the opposite I have seen projects of the same nature and as big as these that don't need the BRA to exist as part of an urban renewal plan in order to do that. Actually if the urban renewal plans were not there the BRA would continue to be the main development institution, the main planning institution, and will still have the powers that they had to authorize Chapter 121 B, will continue to do demonstration projects in so-called slums and blight areas of the city; it will not affect that potential and so I have no clear understanding of why we are approving a list of plans which we have no copy of, which had been change so many times, which have so many properties that have not been developed and continue to be not developed, that the private market or the original owners may have developed by now. So that basically is the reason why; on top of that I tried to submit a reasonable solution to this council that will allow the general public to be involved by at least having a hearing before these were renewed. That was objected to; but it's not even a part of this new process so the public is shut out and the council is only to receive reports. And I cannot vote for it.
Feeney: First and foremost I need to recognize the extraordinary work of really a veteran of this council who, whenever he commits himself to an issue, always produces the best result and it's a result not necessarily everything he wanted but a result that will have a positive impact on the city of Boston. I believe today is really a new day. By voting for the urban renewal plans, we are saying that we're going to begin to trust one another. We're going to begin a new relationship with the authority, the Boston redevelopment Authority --it is not a city Department, we don't have oversight, we really when you really think about it the impact the BRA has on our city is extraordinary, when you think of how little oversight we have. But some would suggest to you that that independence is critical to move the urban agenda forward. I am not an urban planner. I'm not a developer. I am not an expert in this field. But there are many wonderful talented bright people in the BRA. Today we have an opportunity to, really for the first time, have commitments from the BRA that speak to process, notice, engagement, involvement -- I don't know what more could of gained. Eminent domain at this point is a public process but not one that necessarily involves the council. Under this extension we are saying that we believe by working together in a way that the BRA and the council has not work together in some 40 years that we can make a difference. That we will not be sidelined, that we will be the voice of the people we represent. Is it a leap of faith? Some would say it is. But I think the work that we have seen over the last almost close to a year now but especially the work that we've seen in the last couple of weeks, the commitment, the willingness to negotiate to give-and-take, speaks volumes. And for me I think this is something that we should be so proud of today. I think that we have really chosen to make a difference in moving the city forward, not to live in the past, not to live in distrust, not to live in an environment where your word doesn't mean anything. I believe the people that we've been negotiating with, their word does mean something. And you know what: From what I see written here, I think they believe that they’re dealing with people trust and value also.
Michael Ross: First I want also commend the chair. There's an internal joke around here that if you want to go to a fight, bring Jimmy Kelly with you. He’s someone you want to have on your side. In quite a few -- not really fights, but efforts, he’s someone who works extremely hard and I've grown to respect over the years of working alongside him. One thing that hasn't been mentioned by anyone here is that about a year-and-a-half ago the BRA was actually about to pass all of these plans through state legislation that would have been submitted by Springfield and we certainly would have had absolutely no role to play in it. But to their credit, to our credit for catching it, to their credit for coming down and meeting with us, they said you know, you're right, that's probably not the best way of doing this. Let's engaged in a dialogue. And we've had a dialogue with the BRA for quite some time about what is this going to look like. There's no question in my mind that the legislation that’s before us today is going to allow for certainly better communication, but it's going to strengthen the hand of the people of Boston, of the Boston City Council, when comes to development in the city. But at the same time it does that, and councilor Feeney alluded to it, there is not total agreement in this city about what that role should be and I have heard from all parties. I've certainly heard from the folks were saying, “let them expire”; “curtail some of their power” says another group, you get somewhere in the middle, and then it starts going the other way, from developers to members of the labor community, also columnists and newspapers and actually from both editorial boards of both newspapers, saying that development in the city of Boston many not be a role for the Boston city council to wade in too far. And I think there's been an effort to kind of create that balance. In my own district there's development that needs to happen and I have one the most densely populated districts here. Fenway, Boylston St, that entire street if you drive down it, makes no sense in the city; it so desperately needs development and we’re just starting to see development go up. It just happened on one corner and we are about to get something across the street. Let me tell you, there's enough disagreement in my community about exactly what it's going to look like and what height and where it's going to be, that I'm not sure that the residents of the Fenway want to now come back with those proposals for Boylston Street to the Boston City Council for a vote on those things. I know that there are triggers in this legislation that if they go too far it triggers the minor-major modification there, we finally have some definitions on that and I think that's very meaningful, and there’s other language here that will provide some protections. But it's not about micro-managing, it’s not about grabbing power. It's about finding that balance, gaining a little bit more power, and moving forward. So I just want to say we have something here that is much better than what we had in the past and it really puts this on the road to a very meaningful relationship with the BRA and helps our citizens continue to develop the rest of our city.
Kelly: I have an amendment to offer, a friendly amendment, and I’m hoping it addresses some of the concerns expressed by councilor Turner when he spoke. I would like to have unanimous support for this measure but that's not meant to happen. But I do respect those counselors that have brought some issues that I had thought about in my own mind up until probably late last night when I was reaching a level of comfort. The eminent domain takings, the fact that there is still distrust that still lingers. Also about the blanket approval of 19 urban renewal plans, in fact extending beyond what they had initially asked for. Councilor Turner said let's not repeat the mistakes of the past, he talked about the concerns of power taken away from city council, also about the lease long-term lease agreements that the BRA has arranged. Counselor Yancey had mentioned that few of us have an understanding of the existing plans. And all of these things are absolutely--they’re all there. Although I feel a level of comfort, those concerns are everyone's minds and I understand stand that and I respect that but the reason I have such a level of comfort is that I know that there is an honest commitment by the BRA to be willing to come forward and inform the city council as I stated before to reestablish that working relationship, that trust, that is so important to those of us who serve in elective office, that we have a good relationship with people who are the appointed officials of the city. But that's what we’ll have the opportunity to do. Whoever is the president come January, whoever is the committee chair of planning and economic development, I hope that there's a commitment that we will start a public process that will reassure the members of the city council and answer those unanswered questions that will give comfort to the people in the neighborhoods that what we believe, at least what I believe, in my heart is actually going to happen. And that there's going to be that working relationship, sort of shining light on some information that up to now has been -- sort of --the accusation by some that there's a bunch of secret squirrels up on the ninth floor, that they know everything, and we know nothing. We will have the opportunity to get that information as will all the people who are interested so I hope that the commitment that I have and I think all of us share right now will follow through to February and March of next year when these hearings begin. The friendly amendment is, in the final "whereas " section on page 2 item number one following the proposed termination or adoption of an urban renewal plan that we insert the following: "alteration of the boundaries of an urban renewal plan through the" --now that would be added on line 4 after the first word "the" before the second word "addition." So it will read, "the proposed termination or adoption of an urban renewal plan the alteration of the boundaries of an urban renewal plan through the addition of additional land” etc etc. That's the friendly amendment.
Flaherty: (Takes a vote on the amendment); the ayes have it.
(Takes a vote on the resolution); the ayes have it. Councilor Hennigan is doubting the vote. Will the clerk please call the roll.
Clerk: councilor arroyo no. Consalvo yes Feeney yes Flaherty yes Hennigan no Kelly yes McDermott yes Murphy Ross yes Scapiccio yes Tobin yes Turner no Yancey no. Eight in the affirmative four in the negative; the committee report has been accepted as amended.