Thursday, September 15, 2005

27 Worst Deals for the City

As Ross Perot said, "do you hear that sucking sound?" It is all of our money being sucked from City Hall by the rich and connected that the establishment kowtow's to.

HERE THEY ARE:

The Dirty Dozen(s)


Hayward Place
Almost an acre of City-owned land across the street from the new Millennium Ritz Tower complex.
The BRA, on Mayor Menino’s orders, took it by eminent domain without paying compensation to the City.
The BRA held a rigged competition in which the honest high bidder offered $23 million but did not get the land.
Millennium Partners was designated the developer with at sweetheart deal: 10-year lease, no rent to City after first two years, keep all parking lot profits, first right of refusal to buy after the 10 years, with 121A tax break and zoning relief indicated. Loss: $23 million in cash to the City treasury; over 340 mid-range housing units with an affordable set-aside; the credibility of City’s bidding process.

Kensington Place
To carry out Mayor Menino’s deal with Kensington, BRA and Boston Zoning Commission designated Kensington’s half-acre a PDA (Planned Development Area), and let him count nearby streets and neighboring property as the rest of the required acre. BRA, knowing it was unlawful to do so and even telling Kensington so, proceeded to use the PDA to get ISD to issue a demolition permit on the Gaiety Theatre, which was protected by zoning. The BRA ignored the Asian Community Development Corporation proposal to restore the theatre and build housing above, all with private money, no public subsidy. The historic Gaiety Theatre, one of only two Boston theatres racially integrated during the Jazz Age, boasting acoustics rivaling Jordan and Symphony Halls, and designated for preservation by the City Midtown Cultural District Plan, was torn down in spring of 2005.

City Hall Plaza
On Mayor Menino’s orders, BRA took the Plaza by eminent domain in 1996 (yes, took it back – it had been given to the City after the original urban renewal takings), paying no compensation to the taxpayers. It’s about 10 acres; at the going rate of $30M per acre of development land downtown, it’s a $300m loss. However, the City still is responsible for maintenance. BRA entered a Joint Venture agreement with Trust for City Hall Plaza, a group of developers, to build a hotel and garage on the Plaza. After many blue ribbon panels, charrettes, etc., the scheme was blocked by public protest, as well as the General Services Administration on the Plaza. The Trust still exists but is dormant until Green Line station is rebuilt; then it plans to resume the take-over for development.

Columbus Center
This oversized tower project was long protested by the communities of South End, Bay Village and Back Bay. The project didn’t conform to the Turnpike Air Rights Plan, the “Civic Vision.” None of the public benefits promised in return for “excess height” were ever provided. To eliminate public legal recourse after approval, the BRA and the Zoning Commission voted the whole project a PDA (Planned Development Area), although not one square foot of it was eligible for PDA zoning, and most of it (the Air Rights) was not subject to City of Boston zoning at all.

Liberty Place
On Mayor Menino’s orders, ISD permitted demolition of Pilgrim Theatre, protected from demolition by Chinatown zoning (like the Gaiety above). The Zoning Board of Appeal approved a variance for a 300’ tower in 150’ zone despite lack of hardship. Community protest, based on fears of gentrification, was ignored.

Corey St parking lot, West Roxbury
BRA was going to take part of a City parking lot by eminent domain as a “demonstration project” and hand it over to a developer to build for lease by USPS. After public exposure, BRA backed off and got the Department of Neighborhood to dispose of the land via lease with USPS. There was no process for surplusing of the land.

Forsyth
BRA was going to take part of a City park by eminent domain as a “demonstration project” and give it to Forsyth Institute for its expansion. After pubic protest against the “demonstration project” mechanism, BRA told Parks to give the land to DND for a land swap with Forsyth. How can DND do a land swap if it has to publish RFPs per Chapter 30B? Still investigating. No appraisal of the land value was done before swap approved; City loss is several million dollars in turning our parkland into Forsyth real estate.

Chapter 121As
Two dozen commercial and luxury housing projects have 40-year tax breaks, paying one-half to one-third of their fair taxes. I estimate loss to City of about $70 million a year, based on 2003 Boston Herald study finding five such project cost the City $14M a year. Examples: FleetCenter, One Beacon St., Landmark Center, Prudential Center, Mercantile Wharf, Marriot Custom House Time-Share, Lafayette Place Mall, World Trade Center Hotel and two office tower, Genzyme Allston Plant, Post Office Square garage, 10 Saint James, Harvard’s Medical Area Total Energy Plant, Macy’s, Marriott Long Wharf, Exeter Towers, 175 Federal St.

BU bioterrorism lab
The State surplused some highway land near BU Medical Center to the City. Without any City Council process to see if the City needed the land for municipal purposes as the law requires, the BRA took it by eminent domain and handed it over to BUMC’s development consortium with Bob Walsh, Mayoral friend, developer and ex-BRA Director. According to Walsh’s own memo to the State, the City lost $4.5 million in land value and the The project plan for the area lost 300,00 square feet of development due to buffers required for a Level 4 BioLab. BRA and City agencies approved the BioLab project before a public safety plan was created by Fire Dept. and Public Health Commission, which began making such a plan only when Gloria Fox proposed State regulation. City Councilors held at least one meeting on the BU Lab that was closed to the public in violation of Open Meeting Law.

Fan Pier DIF
Pritzkers sat speculating on their 15 acres of waterfront land after it was permitted for 3 million sf of development, collecting parking fees and paying little in taxes while waiting for a buyer to pay their top price in a flip. Menino, in this election year, got his friend Joe Fallon, major waterfront developer (and tax-break beneficiary) to buy the land. That Menino promised to make it worth Fallon’s while and protect him from risk soon became evident when Fallon started talking about a DIF (District Improvement Financing), which would let him direct his project’s property taxes for construction of “public works” (garages, roads, landscaping, etc.) for his project.

100-Acre Plan, Fort Point Channel
After five years of process and 45 public meetings, the BRA ignored all community wishes and signed privately negotiated PDA agreements with big land-owners, which will eliminate all zoning controls. They may also get DIFs. In fact, all big developers will ask for DIFs; who wouldn’t want their taxes devoted to improving their own properties? This will divert new-growth taxes from schools and other basic City services.

Urban Renewal extension
An 8-member majority of City Council signed away, as part of a so-called 10-year Urban Renewal Plan extension proposal, all its (and therefore ours) oversight powers over the BRA’s Urban Renewal Plan major modifications -- including future term extension. Therefore, City Council now has absolutely no power over any planning or development decisions in Boston. The agreement between Council and BRA was the product of 18 months of secret, closed-door meetings that violate the Open Meeting Laws. (Four Councilors opposed the extension proposal, and also boycotted the secret meetings: Felix Arroyo, Maura Hennigan, Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey.)

Mission Church, Mission Hill neighborhood
The City is allowing several of the buildings in this landmarked historic complex to be destroyed by a developer.

Islamic Mosque, Roxbury
The BRA sold the 1.9-acre lot to a religious group for $175,000. The Islamic Society of Boston's own newsletter said the land is worth $2 million. The BRA valued the parcel at $401,187, took a cash payment of $175,000 from the center's developers, then made up the rest of the price tag by valuing at $272,663 a series of benefits the developers are granting Roxbury Community College. For example, the BRA assessed the value of a lecture series the Islamic Society of Boston plans to conduct at the college at $115,598. It assessed the value of an Islamic library of 5,000 volumes slated for the community college at $80,000. A lawsuit has been filed, so public money is being spent defending it.

Joseph LaRosa
The neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Roslindale, Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, South Boston and West Roxbury have all complained of La Rosa's substandard housing construction. City building agencies are also implicated because of their lack of response to complaints and negligence in upholding the State Building Code. Zoning Board of Appeal Chair Joseph Feaster was La Rosa’s attorney, and although an Ethics Commission found no conflict, Mayor Menino finally forced him to resign from the Board. Feaster was also not a Boston resident --thus not eligible for appointment on the Board; he had been claiming the residential tax exemption on a house in the city.

99 Melville, Dorchester
To rescue a politically connected Dorchester property owner from a court decision requiring him to tear down an unlawfully built house, the Mayor and BRA are trying to retroactively change the zoning in Dorchester and five other neighborhoods to allow development of house lots with inadequate road frontage. This deprives the abutters, who have fought and won a lawsuit, of their due zoning variance legal process. Density in all the affected neighborhoods would be increased and the purposes of minimum frontage requirements would be defeated.

Red Sox
A huge area of the Fenway neighborhood was condemned for BRA eminent domain taking to give to the Red Sox for a new stadium. The Sox would have been able to develop their current ballpark site with commercial or luxury housing towers. The legislation included $100 million in “infrastructure” improvements as community mitigation. The land has remained under condemnation, creating uncertainty for leasing, so the Sox can hold on to all their options, including the $100M they still want, for garage subsidy (even though they are not redeveloping the stadium as planned).

Convention Center
A billion-dollar white elephant with few bookings. They destroyed many businesses when they cleared the land for it. The hotel developer bid on “no tax break” condition, and then got a tax break.

Jurys Hotel and Manulife TIFs
Two high-end projects that needed absolutely no help (four-star Irish boutique hotel in Back Bay and the biggest insurance company in the world – it bought out the Hancock) got City and State tax breaks of unpublicized amounts.

HUD $40 million to luxury hotels
Forty million dollars of HUD loans, intended for economic development of distressed areas, was offered to developers of luxury hotels. Once it became public, one of the developers (of the Mandarin Oriental) declined his loan, presumably ashamed. The Mayor and BRA gave it to other luxury hotel developers (they have no shame) instead of supporting enterprise in poor neighborhoods.

Yawkey Way taking
BRA took an “easement” on Yawkey Way by eminent domain from the City, to “license” the vendors on the privatized street during game days and collect the lease fees, while the City taxpayers were left with the street maintenance. In response to public outrage, Councilor Michael Ross demanded that the City get the lease fees; at this June 6 Ways and Means hearing Ross asked the BRA how much the City is getting: Nothing. Where is the money going? To the BRA’s “urban renewal” fund, i.e., to their own private budget.

Ames building (One School St, near City Hall, historic building)
BRA was going to take the whole building by eminent domain just to void the tenants’ leases, and then give it back to the owner, so he wouldn’t have to negotiate a lease buy-out. When the press learned of it, the BRA decided not to do the taking. But later, the BRA took the “air rights” under the cornice overhang – “property” that doesn’t even exist, but if it did, it would be the City’s to sell – and sold it to the Ames developer for over $80,000, money that should have gone to the City treasury. City Council asked BRA for list of all such takings; the BRA said they had no listing and couldn’t provide the information.

Roxbury Master Plan – Parcel P-3
The BRA spent years in a planning process with the community. When the zoning was written, the BRA allowed PDAs in new development areas. Now Requests for Proposals are being written with sham community process; community resistance, which arose when they found out that PDAs eliminate all zoning and all community control, has been ignored by the BRA.

Longwood Medical Center Guidelines
Longwood Medical Area is already a self-zoning district through Institutional Master Plans; the Guidelines further reward institutions with bonus density for dumping parking and back-office space “elsewhere” – in particular, Roxbury. Poor, black neighborhood to become a colony of the educational and health care institutions. Residents of “elsewhere” are fighting the BRA to keep these uses out of a big Request for Proposal currently being drafted, but so far without success.

Loews Hotel project, Park Plaza Urban Renewal Area
BRA took a tiny sliver of land by eminent domain adjacent to a site zoned for 150’ height instead of letting the developer of the site buy it. This way, by conveying the bit of land, the BRA could turn the whole site into a U-District, totally exempt from zoning (similar to a PDA).

Two Financial Center, Leather District
To help Rose Associates build a tower on their half-acre parking lot that would exceed the zoning of this historic district , BRA first encouraged Rose to create a PDA by including their pre-existing One Financial Center across the street, or some properties not even adjacent to the parking lot. When this drew community fire, the BRA declared the site blighted (a half-acre site the developer himself valued at $15 million) and gave Rose a 121A, which eliminated zoning and granted a huge tax break in addition. The community sued and lost; the courts won’t contradict a local blight determination. Rose proposed the same height tower without PDA or 121A but wrote in their proposal that if anyone exercised the right to challenge them at the Zoning Board of Appeal, they’d go back and get a 121A, and so get both the zoning relief and the tax break. No one challenged at the ZBA.

BRA Compliance Monitor
In October 2004, the BRA created the position of Compliance Monitor to track all promises made by developers and the BRA since 1957 when the BRA began, so they could be enforced. BRA Director Mark Maloney said, “An unkept promise is a lie.” A year later, no one can find out what the Compliance Monitor has been doing; she and Maloney refuse to provide a progress report or meet with community. Maloney responded to June 6, 2005 City Council inquiry on her work thus: She was hired simply to coordinate the compliance work being done by others. He promised to send her job description and progress update to Council; nothing sent to date.

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