The following document, authored by Brian Mahoney, a resident of South Boston, was presented to the South Boston Community on 2/18/98.
This report is a South Boston view of the BRA Master Plan. It does not claim to be the view of any single organization, but rather the compilation of comments echoed throughout the South Boston community.
First where is South Boston? Contrary to the varying titles such as 'SEAPORT DISTRICT' , 'SOUTH BOSTON WATERFRONT 'INDUSTRIAL SOUTH BOSTON' , 'RESIDENTIAL SOUTH BOSTON, 'COMMONWEALTH FLATS'; The City of Boston Street Directory, PRINTED BY THE CITY delineates South Boston boundaries from Northern Ave. to Andrew Square and Kosczuisco Circle. There is a legal process to annex to or secede from a city and that has not occurred. Attempts to divide have historically strengthened our unity. The same has happened in this instance. A perfect example is the Fort Point section. They have formed a group, the Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND). Their first report is attached. In it they discuss issues affecting not only their concerns, but those of the entire South Boston Community.
Throughout South Boston these sentiments are echoed. In addition to questions concerning traffic and housing,, they also express solidarity with their neighbors in the Fort Point area. They are appreciative and supportive of those folks who revitalized a section of our community long neglected by the large property owners and the City. Their support and assistance in our successful fight to defeat the stadium plan formed an everlasting bond. South Boston is proud of its 'Artist Community' and has no intention of allowing its destruction.
The best policy is honesty, With that in mind, the following is the likely scenario: The developers would like to start at the Heights; knocking down the Monument and everything existing between Columbus Park, Castle Island and the Fort Point Channel. They would then replace it with 50 story office buildings and upscale condominiums. The future condominiums are now referred to as "housing developments" and plans are already underway to vacate them by any methods necessary.
South Boston residents, on the other hand, would preserve what is in place and the underdeveloped portion would become a beach area with sand dunes. Neither will occur; but if we know where we stand we can work in harmony to attain an acceptable solution.
The benefits to the large property owners and their development plans are obvious. For the South Boston community the benefits are invisible. Vague assurances of jobs, wispy and confusing statements about linkage, and silence about affordable housing are indicative of their attitude toward the community.
INDIFFERENCE ON IMPACT
On this last point, an example. On page 36 of the 'Master Plan', a -very pretty, glossy and no doubt expensive booklet: The subject of a buffer zone is addressed. At the top of the page is a picture of the most impacted area. The photograph is captioned "Flaherty Playground". Any South Boston resident can tell you Flaherty Playground is -located at B and West Third Streets. Pictured is "Buckley Playground" at E and West Third Streets, four blocks away. A SMALL MISTAKE??????? or a glaring example of ignorance and indifference??? A thorough and insightful examination would have raised the Problem of affordable housing. Yet not only is there no new housing proposed; but those South Boston residents who would 'benefit' are being forced out of existing housing due to astronomical rent increases and real estate speculators.
Jobs for hotel workers were offered to South Boston residents only after it was discovered that the new Seaport Hotel advertised for workers in every local newspaper except the South Boston Tribune; triggering a flurry of complaints. No South Boston resident can recall ever hearing of any public meeting regarding construction of this hotel. Nor have they been informed of any meeting regarding the two 'PROPOSED' office towers.
Also of interest is that the only papers in which the BRA places employment ads are the Bay State Banner and El Mundo.
At the last meeting Mayor Menino stated the one thing he wanted to prevent was the 'Manhattanization' of South Boston. Yet THIS PLAN seems to embrace just that. BRA Director O'Brien and the Mayor have declared the Federal Courthouse a mistake because it creates a massive walling off at the waterfront. Of course, the mistake cannot be undone. However, this is mistake No. 2.
MISTAKE No. I
The first mistake, made under the previous administrator, was the building of a Parking Garage at the former navy base. Before this was built you were able to stand at Perkins Square, look down Dorchester Street and took into the harbor at ships sailing by. The City told the community that they wanted to build a 5 story parking garage, the height of which would be equivalent to a three story house and use it only for employees of the Marine Industrial Park. However, it was aggressively marketed as a Public parking garage, offering shuttle buses to take customers to South Station once they parked in the garage. People were observed in the business district with "sandwich board" signs advertising the new garage and shuttle. This explains the increased traffic on L street, which was already unbearable before this garage increased it even more.
MISTAKE NO 3 THE SEAPORT HOTEL
On Page 9 of the master plan, a stated goal in referring to the Commonwealth Pier (World Trade Center) is "using these buildings as important benchmarks". Yet, this "important benchmark" is obscured. Where once from C Street, D Street and many other locations you were able to look through the Commonwealth arch and beyond, now you must be within a hundred feet in front of it to have this view. Surely a much better design is possible; perhaps an "A" shaped building that would frame at least the arch, if not the whole Trade Center building. There should be an open design review process.
On Page 7 the Master Plan states "This land (waterfront) was created between 1870-1920 to serve rail lines and later became an industrial land warehousing district". This is not the complete picture. Look at the map on page I of the 'master plan'. In the 1700's, South Boston's Shoreline began where the checkered "Buffer Zone" line is marked. Everything in yellow is fill. In fact between F & D Streets up to Broadway was Widow Foster's apple orchard,-where tea chests from the Boston Tea Party washed ashore. In the 1840's those mud flats that extended from "A" Street to the Harbor were filled, creating a long finger that is now the Fort Point neighborhood. In the 1870's the width of Fort Point was doubled. When plans for filling in more waterfront were proposed the people of South Boston dug in their heels. In 1896, at the insistence of the South Boston City Councilor, the City agreed that 4 5 of the proposed II 5 acres of fill be set aside for the use of the people. Six baseball diamonds, two oval running tracks, a football field and a large gymnasium with hot showers were built in the area. This area was then named "Commonwealth Park". it went from D and First Streets to the inner harbor. In 1912 with war on the horizon, the Park was taken by the government. Protests were quelled by appeals to patriotism. The harbor, from D Street to the Reserve Channel, from First Street to Summer Street, was filled, creating the Army base. When the war ended, the base was split down E Street. Everything East was military, Everything to the West; instead of being returned to a Park was purchased by large merchant developers. In short, the only people ever to create a truly public use for the waterfront were the citizens of South Boston. A legal case might be made that the land is not being used in accordance with the legislation enabling its creation.
The only 'benefit' discussed in depth is the "Harborwalk". Yet the City has been unable to have waterfront establishments such as the "Marriott Long Wharf' comply. They don't want non-paying public to use 'their' waterfront. The presentation of the plan itself is flawed, if not intentionally confusing. Including tonight, there have been 5 public meetings. Four meetings were publicized in the ,Tribune, The very first meeting to present the plan was publicized by the South Boston Citizens' Association because, as Director O'Brien stated: "the City forgot to take out an ad". The second ad was publicized by the City but Director O'Brien failed to appear.
At the third meeting he informed us that his absence at the second meeting was due to a "late board meeting at the office". Of course we later learned that, in fact, he was in Roxbury, trying to convince those residents that a major development on "underdeveloped land" in their neighborhood would be good for them, even though the majority of residents and community leaders complained of inadequate benefits to the community as well as 'high-rent displacement'.
Mr. O'Brien went a long way toward unifying South Boston opposition at the very first meeting. First, a gentleman from the Fort Point neighborhood asked a question; pointing out that the locations and heights were against existing laws. Mr. O'Brien flippantly answered "they own the land, they can do what they want", and cut off the gentleman, whose question clearly wasn't answered and probably started the formation of S.A.N.D. The last questioner, a gentleman from the City Point Neighborhood, asked: "Mr. O'Brien, I notice on your map that yellow harborwalk line goes right through "M" Street Park and my house. How come nobody ever spoke to me about possibly losing my house?" Mr. O'Brien arrogantly answered: "Look, if the line bothers you, I'll paint it out myself, OK? It's gone, OK? No more line". With that the first meeting ended. So, in the space of two questions, Mr. O'Brien managed to insult everyone from one end of South Boston to the other.
To be fair, Mr. O'Brien has a difficult task. On one side he has big, big money pushing him to go one way and, on the other, the people who put his boss in the position to appoint him. It must be very tough and frustrating to stand up there and try to explain while being bombarded by angry voices. Nevertheless, short, flip evasive answers, "forgetting" to advertise meetings does little to foster confidence in this plan. What we all agree on is that development should and will take place, The obvious question??? HOW? With that in mind we have taken the advice printed in the February Newsletter", printed by the BRA headed "Quote, Unquote" "If you're going to be involved in preservation in inner-city neighborhoods, people are going to ask you why. Have your goals clear. Early on, it became very apparent to us that we needed to have our own marketing pitch for our neighborhood. It's funny how, everyone wants to market your neighborhood but you. This was our pitch: "We live in Manchester. Some of are old, some of us are young. Some of us are black, some of -us are white. Some of use are poor, a few may even be rich. But we all have one thing in common: We like it here." That's affirming ourselves in our own community and we need to say that over and over again...
"Why can't we turn awful buildings into facilities that are sensitive to our neighborhoods? Why can't we do clean-up and maintenance programs with the youth in our neighborhoods? Why can't we hire them to take care of these places? Why can't we look them in the face and say 'This is a beautiful neighborhood. This is our home. Nobody's going to take care of it unless we take care of it. And that's what we are going to do."
Excerpt from "Preserving and Developing the City: Creating a New Direction for Boston," a Boston 400 Forum lecture by Stanley Lowe, Director of the Pittsburgh Housing authority, delivered Wednesday, December 10, 1997, at Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts
With that quotation fresh in our minds, these are some of the goals .that we would like incorporated into a Master Plan for South Boston:
- A temporary halt to all construction until a master plan acceptable to the majority of all parties is finalized. As we sit here the developers are breaking ground trying to "beat the clock' and have this plan a "fait accompli"
- There must be a new environmental review, including the impact of transit, vehicular and pedestrian throughout South Boston, The housing crisis is at a critical point and we suggest the following: 2500 units of 1, 2, and 3 story housing units be built by re-organizing the industrial zone between D and L Streets and on Summer and First Streets in the following manner: Move all industrial buildings between E Street and Pappas Way and First and Summer Street to the center of this area. The center industrial zone would be bordered on the First Street and Pappas Way side by three story units. The next street out would be two story units. The final Street out would be one story units. This would be repeated on a limited scale between First and Summer and K Street and the reserve Channel. On Summer Street between F Street and Pappas Way an industrial only road into the industrial zone would be placed. Included in the industrial zone would be a full-sized supermarket and retail stores to service the entire community. The South Boston Atlantic High School would be located in the Marine Industrial Park.
- Starting at Conley Terminal the oil tanks should be replaced with below ground level tanks. This eyesore has been there long enough. Surely if we were able to build the Ted Williams tunnel, we can put these tanks underground. Next we would like City and State officials to stop the sale of Boston Edison until they remove that 12 story, block long, unused, decrepit plant. Removal of the NMTA plant. There is no reason to use valuable waterfront land to turn a bus around. A new industrial road could then be built from Conley Terminal along the docks between the water and First Street. This road would continue through the Edison Parking lot on Summer Street, cross Summer Street and enter Elkins Street into the new industrial zone on that side of the channel. This would free up valuable land, restrict industrial trucking into their own, more convenient roadway, restore that side of the harbor and allow the continuation of the Harbor Walk.
- New housing would be by lottery and open market. 50% South Boston residents as of January 1, 1995; 15% Boston residents as of January 1, 1995; 35% open market.When condominiums were built on the North End Waterfront lottery winning residents were allowed to buy a unit for 115 of their market value. A community leader, such as Marty Nee (who was not even aware of this report) has a proven record of creating affordable housing in South Boston. He would be a great choice to devise a lottery formula.
SOUTH BOSTON'S REVOLUTIONARY HISTORY
Like Lexington and Bunker Hill; shots were fired in the war with the British here and like Lexington and Bunker Hill, blood was shed and Americans died here. But in respect to those historic sites there is a major difference: WE WON. In fact, this is where General Washington won his first victory in the war of independence. How different would the world be today if we had never evicted the British. Cannons were placed at Farragut and Broadway, Bush Tree Hill (M Street Park), Leeks Hill (Dorchester, 2nd, and 3rd Streets) the Twin Hills (Dorchester Heights) and Foster's Hill (B & Third Streets). This area runs perfectly parallel to the proposed Harborwalk. A South Boston Historical museum would be built on the wharf at the reserve channel at the First Street end. At the Summer Street end, the City should negotiate with Mr. Barry Clifford, the gentleman who discovered the pirate ship "Widah" off the coast of Wellfleet. Mr. Clifford wants to display the restored ship and its 1/2 Billion Dollars in treasure and is seeking a home. What better place? The last public execution in Boston was the hanging in 1813 of two pirates, Samuel Tully and John Dalton, hung at C and Third Streets. Further, chests of tea from the Boston Tea Party floated ashore between F and D Streets and Mr. Clifford wants to excavate for them.
While gathering opinions for this report a question asked a number of times was "Where's the map to block the Streets?" That really isn't needed. First of all, no South Boston resident needs to be shown how easy a stalled car would block up the Williams Tunnel, the Haul Road, Day Boulevard, or any/all other locations. Secondly, it will never come to that. Civil disobedience will be unnecessary if things are worked out by mutual agreement. These actions would only arise from the frustration of observing government employees standing on a stage, wringing their hands stating "they own the property, they can do as they wish" What "they" want to do is against existing laws and codes in many aspects. To those who feel powerless, remember when Kevin White contemplated bringing the World's Fair to South Boston in the 60's. In the 70's and 80's it was the Fan Pier. Then there was Bob Kraft. Of course we all remember when Kevin White brought the National Guard. They didn't last long.
It's never over till it's over. This has just begun. Perhaps Chester Darling has a cousin.
We feel that the City of Boston has done us a favor by putting this plan together. It puts everything on the table for discussion. It has also wakened a sleeping tiger. This 'Master Plan" must change. It cannot be presented as "This is what is going to happen." 250 feet is too tall, 150 feet is too tall.
A representative of the Massport Authority was quoted several years ago in a newspaper as stating that the 'Marine Industrial Park looked out onto a very unattractive community!!! Our intent is to change his opinion of our community; not to put a wall around it.
When the new courthouse was being discussed, the Fort Point section was given guarantees of certain benefits to their neighborhood. None of those commitments have been honored. Legally binding contracts outlining linkage benefits, etc. have to be signed before any further construction can take place. The last 5 major waterfront developers in America: Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland and Baltimore, all hired outside professional urban planning firms. We are talking about creating a 1,000 acre community on the water; probably the most prime land on the East Coast. How many chances will we have to build on this waterfront?? Its beauty was destroyed once by coal yards and oil tanks. Let's stop, take a breath, and do it right, together. It must be said that if all proposed development configured to existing buildings, as the McCourt plan for the building on Sleeper Street promises to be, this can be an exciting and pleasurable time ahead. If, however, Pritzker or any other developer is allowed to build 250 feet at the water's edge, developers further back will want to go higher and wider, and this will be a long, hard road for the South Boston Community and the developers.
The Chairman of Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (Boston Globe 2/9/98) wondered why the City was calling for a moratorium on building over the Pike until completion of a master plan, but is allowing development to proceed in South Boston, while the master plan hasn't been completed. We wonder, too!!!
We are proud of our South Boston Community. We will not be intimidated or insulted into making bad decisions. If we are approached with unworkable scenarios we will object. We have been ridiculed because of our resolve, unity and loyalty to each other. In spite of this constant negativity directed at South Boston residents, we will continue to reject any and all attempts to reconfigure our community if it is detrimental. Developers and their messengers, commonly referred to as 'carpetbaggers' are not our friends or neighbors, we owe them nothing. We offer no apology for our actions. It is not necessary.
We call on our elected officials to stand with us and call for a halt to further development until a master plan contributed to by every section of South Boston can be drawn up and presented. Work on such a plan is already started and well on its way to completion. The plan, as presented by the City is, after all, just an interim report submitted to the Community for review. STOP THE BUILDING
WHILE WE REVIEW.
This report was authored by Brian Mahoney, a life-long resident of South Boston, on behalf and at the request of residents and those whose employment or position prevents them from speaking out.