GentriWatch: BRA Unanimously Votes to Keep Urban Renewal Going

Plus, essential follows for development wonks, and East Boston's new loft-style hotel.

Welcome to GentriWatch, where we look for signs of gentrification happening around the city.


“TRUTH BE TOLD, and you may be shocked, but there is some animosity out there,” said ‎Corey Zehngebot, a senior urban designer at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, as she made the agency’s case for retaining its controversial urban renewal power at Thursday’s meeting of the board of directors.

The board’s unanimous vote in favor of the 10-year extension follows an extensive public relations campaign, including a first-of-its-kind apology from director Brian Golden for the decimation of Boston’s West End in the agency’s “slum-busting” days, to a number of public forums of urban renewal, to a BRA-curated exhibit in the West End Museum, a collaboration never thought likely.

Zehngebot called the BRA “imperfect farmers,” and admitted the difficulty of having this discussion “against a backdrop of tremendous historical baggage.” Still, she maintained that a great deal of Boston’s progress would not have been possible without urban renewal.

Representatives from sheet metal workers, roofers and waterproofers, and plumbers unions gave brief, emphatic endorsements of the extension. (“Boston is leading the country,” said Brian Brusso of Roofers and Waterproofers Local 33.) Community leaders, like Anthony Gordon of the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association and Michael Kane of the Mass. Alliance of HUD Tenants, spoke in opposition.

“I notice that not one neighborhood spoke in favor of this proposal,” Gordon said, calling for an agency that doesn’t “react to desires of the developers at the expense of the taxpayers and voters.” Lydia Lowe of the Chinese Progressive Alliance proposed shortening the terms between extensions from 10 years to three, a suggestion that fell flat.

One man, George Lee, called the BRA’s admittedly deliberate use of “tool” instead of “power” to describe urban renewal “incredibly euphemistic.” “Yeah, it’s nice to have a screwdriver, or something to fix my toilet. But I don’t let someone come into my home to fix something without my permission,” he said.

With the first hurdle cleared, the BRA must now garner approval from the Boston City Council, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and Mayor Marty Walsh.

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Rendering via Boston Redevelopment Authority

Rendering via Boston Redevelopment Authority

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the BRA board approved a number of projects Thursday, including a 127-room loft-style, “modestly priced” boutique hotel in Jeffries Point in East Boston. The aptly named Loftel Boston at 175 Orleans Street calls for the renovation of the current structure, built around 1913.

In addition the board approved General Heath Square in Jamaica Plain, a four-story, transit-oriented structure with 47 units affordable housing units. The BRA also cleared the way for the rehabilitation of 48 Boylston Street in Chinatown with no new construction, creating 46 units of low and moderate-income housing.

The 20 Taft Hill project in Roslindale, which seeks to demolish existing structures to erect two new buildings with a total of 19 condominiums (three to be made affordable), also received the BRA’s stamp of approval.

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THE BRA HIRED its first Director of Real Estate earlier this week, tapping Somerville economic development chief Ed O’Donnell for the job. A lifelong West Roxbury resident, O’Donnell’s tenure in Somerville saw the growth of Assembly Row, the planning of more than two million square-feet of transit-oriented development in Union Square, and the arrival of Greentown Labs, a clean tech incubator formerly of Fort Point.

At the BRA, O’Donnell will be tasked with inventorying the properties already in the agency’s possession, then creating a team that will wring from them every last drop of value.

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MAYOR MARTY WALSH signed an executive order Thursday significantly changing the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP), a move that could carve out more affordable housing in private projects moving forward. As a result, developers interested in building luxury housing will have to pay nearly double in fees, which will be channeled toward affordable housing.

“For our city to continue to grow and thrive, we have to do everything in our power to make sure that people who want to work to make Boston better can afford to live here,” Walsh said in a release. “The Inclusionary Development Policy is a critical tool for creating and maintaining affordable living in our City. I am pleased that the team working on this issue has created a balanced policy that helps ensure that our city’s most vulnerable benefit from the strong real estate market, while preserving developers’ ability to create the housing we need across all income levels.”

Under Walsh’s new policy, Boston will be divided into three development zones, designated as A, B, and C.  Zone A includes downtown, waterfront areas, and the Fenway. Zone B includes include Allston, Brighton, Charlestown, Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, and part of South Boston.  Zone C includes Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale, Roxbury, and West Roxbury.

“To ensure that affordability is maintained in Boston’s neighborhoods, the City’s preference is for units created through IDP to remain on-site,” the Mayor’s Office said in a release. “Under certain circumstances, however, developers will be permitted to fulfill their IDP obligations by either making a cash-in-lieu payment into the Inclusionary Development Fund, or by creating affordable units near the planned market-rate development. These allowances would generally be given if the cash-in-lieu payment or off-site option would yield a significantly higher number of affordable units.”

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TO KEEP YOU SATISFIED in between editions of this here weekly screed, we’ve compiled a shortlist of essential Twitter follows.

  • Tim LoganBoston Globe: Logan’s coverage of the development beat is dizzying in both its scope and depth.
  • Catherine CarlockBoston Business Journal: The BBJ’s real estate editor is tuned in to the corporate side of development.
  • Megan TurchiBoston.com: Another great resource on Morrissey Boulevard—and soon, downtown (retool your metonyms, everyone).
  • Rachel SladeBoston magazine: The only one in our office—to my knowledge—with an architecture degree. A dealer in withering barbs like “inspired by a Holiday Inn in Topeka” and “grandpa’s electric razor mated with the Stealth Bomber.”
  • The Fort Pointer: A near-obsessive focus on development in Fort Point and beyond, with no shortage of data and documents to back it up.
  • Adam GaffinUniversal Hub: As if you weren’t already following the ubiquitous UHub. If a beloved neighborhood institution shutters its doors, and Gaffin doesn’t post a photo of the note left on the door, did it ever really happen?
  • Grace HolleyFenway Community Development Corporation: Eyes on the ground from one of the most intensely gentrified neighborhoods in Boston.
  • GOVERNING magazine: Every so often, GOVERNING turns its attention to Boston’s housing crisis, and it’s always a must-read when it does. (Take, for example, its piece on the lack of housing for the city’s families, as developers carve up homes into apartments for college students.)
  • Boston Redevelopment Authority: Of course. Director of communications Nick Martin maintains one of the best municipal feeds in the city, with real-time updates from meetings and a willingness to engage with citizens both skeptical and supportive.

Notice something changing in your neighborhood? Let me know: [email protected], @KyleClauss.