SAND members are evaluating the effectiveness of the City's Impact Advisory Group (IAG) process, and drafting a letter for presentation to the Boston Development Authority as a statement of concerns. This letter will be posted on the SAND website upon release.

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Rifts developing over advisory boards
by Scott Van Voorhis

Thursday, August 1, 2002

City Hall is faced with a budding boycott of its campaign to take control of the traditionally rough-and-tumble process by which Hub neighborhoods review major development projects.

South Boston City Councilor James Kelly is refusing to appoint any members to the growing number of neighborhood advisory groups being set up by City Hall to look over plans for big projects.

Kelly may soon be joined by the Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design, an influential group that represents Fort Point area artists and residents. Steve Hollinger, a SAND member, said the group is debating whether to boycott the city's advisory panels.

If so, members of the Fort Point activist group would refuse to sit on any of the new advisory panels, including one recently set up to review plans for a proposed 30-story office tower on Fort Point Channel at Russia Wharf.

``We are still deliberating a boycott,'' Hollinger said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino offered the neighborhood panel system - called impact advisory groups - more than a year ago following a major South Boston development controversy.

Southie-elected leaders and community groups had squeezed pledges from City Hall for tens of millions of dollars in housing mitigation money in exchange for signing off on the sprawling Fan Pier and other waterfront development plans. Along with angering other city neighborhoods, the Southie deal quickly became seen by some as an example of overreaching by community groups and neighborhood leaders.

However, City Hall's attempt at a cure may be worse that the original problem, critics say.

Unlike the old system where community groups haggled for the best deal they could get, critics say the new advisory panels are strictly that, advisory. Stripped of any power to block a project, the panels have turned out to be toothless tigers, critics say.

Meanwhile, the panels are busy making recommendations on some of the Hub's major development schemes, including retail magnate Stephen Karp's plans for Anthony's Pier 4 and Beacon Capital's ambitious plan to remake the heart of the Fort Point neighborhood through its 1.5-million-square-foot office and residential project.

Serving on an advisory panel ``is an absolute waste of a person's time,'' said Kelly, adding he has talked with a number of disillusioned ex-panel members.

Mark Maloney, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, defended the advisory panels.

Though unable to cite any cases where a panel voted against a project, Maloney said one made significant changes to a Fort Point area project.

But Maloney said the panels aren't set up to cut deals with developers, either.

``We are not turning over the authority to make development deals to anyone other than the Boston Redevelopment Authority,'' Maloney said. Yet he also rejects claims that the panels are toothless tigers.

Still, with an influential neighborhood group and now a city councilor threatening to boycott the panels, City Hall is having a difficult time filling all the available seats on them, critics say.

When it comes to a Chicago developer's plans for a 30-story tower at Russia Wharf, which will rise on the edge of Fort Point Channel, the development advisory panel for the project has no one from the nearby Fort Point neighborhood.

The result, Kelly contended, has been that the advisory panels, including the Russia Wharf group, have been forced to bring on board representatives from other neighborhoods.

``Sometimes people who sit on the IAG don't live in the district,'' Kelly said.

While acknowledging the lack of any Fort Point neighborhood residents on the Russia Wharf advisory panel, Maloney said the group can still function effectively. Among the panel's members are representatives from developers of two projects that abut Russia Wharf, he noted.

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