The East Boston Plan: Same Old Story

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by Michael Freedberg

SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM

(EAST BOSTON, October 5, 2023) Approximately 175 East Boston residents assembled at the Don Orione shrine meeting hall last Tuesday night to hear two representatives of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) discuss PLAN; East Boston. BPDA senior planner Cristina Ricco reported that the meeting would be a final listening session before the 30-day “public comment” period as required by city ordinance ends.

Expectations were high for the meeting. Various East Boston-based social media groups had suggested that Mayor Wu would also attend. But she didn’t.

At-large city councilor Erin Murphy and District One Councilor Gabriela Coletta attended the meeting to hear residents. Both stressed that the uniqueness of East Boston be respected. (Murphy and Coletta both had attended the earlier, larger BPDA gathering in March, at which Murphy stated her support for neighborhoods “to be different, to be unique.”)

Coletta also distributed copies of her April 26, 2023 letter to Mayor Wu in which she insisted upon – among other requests – “preservation of Existing Housing Stock,” “Protection Against Flipping ADU’s” and the extreme importance of building neighborhood trust for the Zoning Board of Appeals.

ADU is the acronym for Additional Dwelling Unit, as authorized in the Commonwealth’s new zoning law allowing side units to be added to existing single and two-family homes in single and two-family zoning districts.) Supporters of ADU believe such measures will alleviate the shortage of affordable housing.

Few attendees expressed disappointment about Mayor Wu not attending, but several expressed resignations. Not only that the Mayor had not come, but also that the BPDA presentation offered nothing that concerned residents hadn’t heard before at the March meeting at Don Orione

Some were more vocal. Lorraine Guarino Orlando, an Orient Heights homeowner, was furious about a plan to build six stories of apartments at the old Faywood Avenue housing project. Other residents spoke less bitterly but no less frustrated that the BPDA, despite so many public meetings over the five years since the plan launched were overlooking local concerns. Among those concerns are expanded zoning for two-and-a-half foot yard setbacks; a plan to narrow Bennington Street to one lane in opposite direction, and local opposition to additions to Orient Heights two-family residences.

Many individuals lined up to address the BPDA’s two representatives. These included the following : Mike McCormmick, a neighborhood association president; Mariellen Dalton, of the Committee In Support of the Haul Road; Mary Berninger, who had been appointed years ago to the BPDA’s local advisory board for the plan; Sean Cronin, a major neighborhood activist; Charles Cann, of the Harborview Neighborhood association; John Cass, president of the Orient Heights Civic Association; Joe Arangio, also of Orient Heights; and Al Capozzi, of Harborview.

Much applause accompanied most of the speakers’ remarks, especially those of Sean Cronin, who asked several pointed questions, such as what does BPDA think the long-term impact of its proposal would be? “I haven’t yet been able to get an answer to any of it,” Cronin told me.

Recently approved development for Orient Heights Square. Such projects have drawn the ire of local residents. (Graphic source: BPDA)

According to Cass, the BPDA’s plan “has actually gotten worse. They had told us that Faywood Avenue would be included in the single-family, two-family restricted sub-zone. Now they’ve removed it. It’s now in the zone that will allow up to four stories. Unacceptable.”

Berninger goes further. “There should be a moratorium on all construction in East Boston,” she said. “With regard to density, we’ve done more than our fair share.”

Meanwhile, the public comment period continues. Councilor Coletta urged everyone to write a letter to Ricco, the senior planner. “Letters are the best way to make your feelings felt,” she said. “I received 350 in opposition to the Charlestown plan.” Charlestown is a part of Coletta’s District 1.

In her most recent newsletter, Coletta said, “Last week, I testified to the BPDA Board of Directors on PLAN: Charlestown. Although there are many commendable aspects of what is proposed, it is abundantly clear that I can’t support this Plan as presented if the anticipated burdens overall outweigh the benefits.”

Get those pens and paper ready…

Mike Freedberg is editor and publisher of the blog, Here and Sphere. He is also a political consultant. He regularly contributes original, participatory content to EastBoston.com.

Originally posted on Friday, October 6, 2023

East Boston