Walsh Still Views Community Groups as Important Forums

Jerome Smith, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services was at the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council (OHNC) meeting Monday night to quell rumors that the Mayor’s Office was trying to curb the power of neighborhood groups in East Boston.

There has been some talk that Mayor Martin Walsh had the desire to increase the power of abutters to development projects and decrease the power of voting community groups like OHNC, Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association and the Eagle Hill Civic Association.

Smith said Mayor Walsh and the Office of Neighborhood Services has long viewed abutters meetings as another way for residents to engage developers and be part of the process.

“Sometimes abutters are not members of these community groups or cannot make a community group meeting, so the abutters meetings are an avenue to let folks know we are having a meeting on this date, at this time at this place to give them another option of having their voice heard and be part of the process,” said Smith. “At these abutters meetings, no votes are taken but our Mayor’s Liaison, Corrine Petraglia, is there to take notes and report back to the Mayor’s office.”

Smith said the abutters meetings give both the residents and developers the forum to work together to address concerns and other issues before moving forward.

“In no way do we want to dictate how a community makes its decisions regarding development,” said Smith. “There is no attempt to dilute the influence community groups here have over the community process. We are not trying to change the community process but the abutters meetings along with the community groups are all weighed and help us make a decision on a project moving forward.”

Smith said the Mayor’s Office is also trying to find new and innovative ways to encourage more community participation in the neighborhood process.

“Over the past few months we have done different things like running civics academies for leaders and members of community groups, using social media like twitter and the Citizens Connect app to encourage more resident participation in the city process,” said Smith.

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