Southie pol slams Seaport proposal

By Cosmo Macero Jr./Boston Herald

Copyright 1998 The Boston Herald

City Council President James M. Kelly is dead set against creating a new residential neighborhood in the Hub's Seaport District, saying the concept being floated by city planners is no good for long-time South Boston locals.

Like other Southie pols, Kelly says planned waterfront condos - expected to fetch premium prices - will do nothing for working families who want better homes in the area.

But the council president also says the Boston Redevelopment Authority ought to step aside when it comes to creating affordable housing in Southie.

``If the BRA is going to be determined to build several thousand residential units, there is going to be a long and loud protest from me and a number of other people in the South Boston neighborhood,'' warns Kelly.

As details have emerged on an in-progress master plan to guide development of the 1,000-acre Seaport area, a vital theme has been the creation of mixed-income housing on as much as 40 percent of the total land mass.

That could mean as many as 8,000 to 10,000 new residential units over the time it takes to fully develop the Seaport. And while early development plans include luxury waterfront condominiums, the BRA and Mayor Thomas M. Menino are drawing up rules which will require all Seaport developers to kick in for below-market rate housing.

``Every great neighborhood, whether it's the South End or Roxbury, has to be a 24-hour community. People have to live there,'' says BRA Director Thomas N. O'Brien. ``There is a very real need to create a 24-hour community in the Seaport District.''

But Kelly charges that priorities have become misplaced, saying the only real goal should be to create blue-collar jobs for South Boston with new hotels, manufacturing and further expansion of the city's maritime economy.

``We don't need a whole new neighborhood. We already have a neighborhood,'' says Kelly. ``I'm not in favor of any residential units at all along the South Boston waterfront.

``I don't think South Boston people want to live down there. And there are plenty of places in the city that these affluent people can move to. They've lived all their lives some place else, why do they have to move into South Boston now?''

Gentrification - the gradual displacement of middle- and low-income residents by more affluent newcomers - over the years has changed the makeup of several Boston neighborhoods, from the West End to the old West End. The process is still at work in Jamaica Plain and South Boston itself.

Yet Kelly is unhappy also with the way BRA would use to pick sites and secure funds from developers for affordable units. Kelly insists that all payments for housing and job creation under the city's ``linkage'' program and other initiatives should be administered only through the so-called South Boston Betterment Trust.

The Trust is a community fund overseen by a panel conceived by Kelly, U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley (D-Boston), state Sen. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) and other pols. It exists to create housing for current Southie residents.

How housing funds generated by Seaport District development are administered - and how affordable housing sites are picked - are dicey issues sure to spark further controversy.

``The responsibility of building housing (in South Boston) falls on the Betterment Trust, not the BRA. And I wish the BRA would understand that,'' Kelly says. ``They risk alienating the whole neighborhood.''

BRA Director O'Brien, meanwhile, says his agency is simply exercising ``its role'' in an effort to address a ``housing crisis'' in South Boston.

And at least some in the neighborhood Kelly represents think that's fine.

``Boston is changing. You can't stop people from coming here,'' says Rita Bailey Gwin, who just last year moved in from Connecticut to West 2nd Street in Southie. ``I don't know Mr. Kelly ... but I love South Boston. I haven't met one person yet I didn't like.''

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