GentriWatch: West End Resident Blasts Mayor Walsh, BRA in Open Letter
Welcome to GentriWatch, where we look for signs of gentrification happening around the city.
The West End‘s Garden Garage project is humming right along with a green light from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal, after the Boston Redevelopment Authority gave the 44-story, 470-unit residential tower its stamp of approval in February.
The $390 million project, developed by Chicago-based Equity Properties, has reopened old wounds from the days of “slum clearance,” when the BRA razed the entire neighborhood in the name of urban renewal. Despite BRA director Brian Golden’s historic apology at the opening of a collaborative exhibit at the West End Museum, some are feeling deja vu all over again.
Longtime West End resident Kathleen Ryan penned a scathing open letter to Mayor Marty Walsh this week, published on NorthEndWaterfront.com. In it, she attacks the project’s lack of on-site affordable housing, as well as the five levels of below-grade parking that she says will only make traffic congestion in the area worse.
“I would have thought you, as our people’s Mayor, would be as insulted and outraged about this as we are, but I guess it does not matter to you after all what we little people think about the neighborhood we know and love better than anyone else,” Ryan wrote.
BRA spokesperson Nick Martin says Golden met with members of the Impact Advisory Group several times throughout what he described as a “very robust review process that stretched over multiple years.” He added that while Ryan’s letter might make the West End sound like a “monolithic block opposed to the project,” there was, in fact, support from members of the community.
“While we understand and appreciate the community’s concerns, we feel that the transformation of an unsightly garage that essentially serves as a barrier to the neighborhood into housing and significant new green space is an overall win for the area and the city as a whole,” Martin said in an email. “From an urban design standpoint, the project is not out of character with other buildings that already exist in the West End and those that are under construction in the nearby vicinity.”
Martin points to the board memo from the BRA’s approval of the project, which he believes is illustrative of the amount of vetting and revision that took place. Ryan disagrees, arguing that the community concerns had fallen on the deaf ears of an “arrogant developer who has consistently and condescendingly refused to compromise with neighborhood residents.”
“The purpose of this email is to tell you that it is continually made clear to our West End residents that we do not meaningfully exist as far as you are concerned and as far as other City officials are concerned,” Ryan went on. “Something as minor as repeated invitations by us common folk to visit our West End so we could show you why we care about appropriate development are dismissed easily with promises to follow up, even when the invitation is made directly to you.”
“The project is of a significant scale, and as with any large development proposal, there will be people that oppose it,” Martin said. “However, we believe that we facilitated a thorough review process and worked with the community and the developer to make changes to the project based on public feedback. ”