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©2000 The Boston Herald

Mayor rips linkage suit for race-based claims
by Steve Marantz and David R. Guarino

Saturday, August 26, 2000

As his administration closed a controversial deal to build 715 rental units on the waterfront, Mayor Thomas M. Menino lashed out at civil rights activists suing the city and South Boston elected officials, saying they are needlessly turning the complex development debate into an ugly racial argument.

Menino made his first public comment on a suit brought by civil rights leaders claiming a 1998 deal between his administration and South Boston's elected officials unfairly directs to Southie benefits of linkage fees paid by developers for affordable housing and extra ``community benefits'' - possibly violating civil rights and fair housing laws.

``Race shouldn't be part of this issue at all, that should be beyond us,'' Menino said. ``Linkage is in every neighborhood in the city, in Roxbury, Back Bay, South Boston, Charlestown, East Boston. Race is not a factor in this at all, it doesn't even get a blip on my screen.''

Menino chided the civil rights groups for failing to provide input into his recently issued executive order empowering the BRA to oversee community benefits flowing to neighborhoods.

``They did not answer our requests at all,'' Menino said. ``We have been looking for inclusion on this issue, having everybody be a part of the process. It's unfortunate they didn't answer our request to comment on the regulations we want to put in place.''

But the head of the civil rights coalition suing the city insisted Menino is ignoring the discrimination in the 1998 set-asides for South Boston, a predominantly white neighborhood.

``He's certainly entitled to his opinion, but it's clear that the agreement has a discriminatory affect, if not intent,'' said Nadine Cohen, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, the chief plaintiff.

Meanwhile, the Boston Redevelopment Authority finalized a $178 million deal with Cathartes Investments to build 585 market-rate rental units and 130 below-market rental units along three blocks of D Street in South Boston, a project opposed by the neighborhood's elected officials.

BRA director Mark Maloney said the Cathartes deal paves the way for the largest rental-housing development in Boston since the late-1970s. Under the deal, Cathartes will build 65 of the affordable units, while non-profits may bid for the right to build an additional 65.

The deal precludes the one Cathartes negotiated last spring with the South Boston Betterment Trust, a nonprofit group whose role in waterfront development is opposed by Menino. Under that deal the Betterment Trust would have built 130 affordable units after receiving land and money from Cathartes.

But Maloney said the deal completed yesterday is better because it ensures that ``experienced'' developers will participate. The BRA is committing $750,000 toward 65 of the affordable units built by a nonprofit developer selected in a bidding process. ``It's a win-win,'' said Maloney. ``It meets the needs of the South Boston neighborhood for affordable housing and it gives the city much-needed rental housing.

``All our planning for the South Boston waterfront focuses on a thriving mixed-use neighborhood. I am very excited that this project is moving forward.''

Betterment Trust president Maryann Crush and City Council President James M. Kelly have said they will oppose the new BRA-Cathartes deal because it squeezes the Trust out. Sen. Stephen F. Lynch (D-South Boston) has said he will oppose it because of increased density - an additional floor along the roofline.

But Lynch said yesterday he could not go along with the Betterment Trust's threat - supported by Kelly - to sue the city, indicating his preference for a negotiated settlement.

``In the end I don't think it will be any of these lawsuits or threatened lawsuits that will bring this to a close,'' said Lynch. ``It will be solved by fair-minded individuals sitting down and coming up with a solution that is fair to South Boston and fair to every neighborhood.''

A drawn-out legal battle, Lynch added, would mean ``we will be in court rather than out breaking ground and beginning new projects. So those people, the people we are supposed to be helping, are the biggest losers as a result of this litigation.''

Maloney said the civil rights lawsuit and impending suit by the Betterment Trust ``has put the city under attack from two different sides.''

BRA attorneys are talking to the civil rights groups and the Betterment Trust, he said, to clarify the city's policy on linkage and community benefits.

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