By John Lynds
Following last week’s heated Eagle Hill Civic Association (EHCA) meeting regarding the East Boston CDC’s (Community Development Corporation) changes to its original proposal for the former Meridian Street Library building, many residents said that it is high time the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) get tougher on designated developers when they change plans.
The CDC was selected from three other proposals for the building and was named designated developer for the historic building. The CDC’s proposal that was accepted by DND included a partnership with the East Boston Ecumenical Community Council (EBECC). Together they proposed to create and operate a community facility to improve and deliver social services to constituents. The plan also included participation by Urban College of Boston and Veronica Robles Cultural Center. Programs promised include adult education, youth development, job and skill training and day care for young children. Services were said to be all inclusive, multicultural and multi-generational.
However, most of that seems to have changed. This turn of events has Eastie residents questioning the community process and are calling for DND to start over and send the project back out to bid. This was made clear following last week’s meeting after CDC head Al Caldarelli and EBECC Director Frank Ramirez unapologetically hinted during the meeting the building would not be all inclusive, multicultural or multi-generational.
“We do not represent every person,” Caldarelli told the crowd at the EHCA meeting. “We represent low to moderate income people that need our and that’s what we will continue to do.”
Caldarelli’s comments set off a firestorm at the meeting with many in attendance saying if the project no longer satisfies the original intent of DND’s Request for Proposal (RFP) of being a development that welcomes the ‘whole’ community and now only services one part of Eastie’s rich diversity it should be revisited.
Meg Hammond thought the CDC, EBECC and DND should have come to the community sooner when the project began to change.
“Maybe we could have worked as a community and found other aspects from the other proposals that were rejected but received some community support and incorporate them into this plan,” she said.
The biggest change to the project announced at the meeting was the fact the East Boston Social Centers will no longer be a tenant in the building to run a community day care. Eagle Hill residents like Joshua Scott said this was one of the aspects of the CDC proposal that received widespread community support and most likely helped DND pick the CDC as the developer.
“I read all of the letters of support during the comment period,” said Scott. “More than half of those letters were praising the child care facility. If that is no longer part of the equation the process needs to start over.”
While Veronica Robles is still part of the project, Scott said more programs or anchor businesses need to be incorporated to bring a wider cross section of the public into the building in order to discover programs like Robles.
“If you shut the building off to half the population how does that help programs like Veronica’s?,” he asked.
In an exchange with Scott at the meeting Ramirez said, “Latino’s are 52 percent of the population of East Boston and you will have to live with that because that is who we (EBECC)will serve.”
Scott, who is of Cuban descent took offense to Ramirez’s comment, as did others at the meeting–many of whom are longtime community activists that have worked decades to unify and not divide Eastie along racial lines. Several walked out of the meeting following Ramirez’s comments.
Scott and others said they are not looking for a plan to strip the building of Latino based programming but would like to see more incorporated into the building that addresses the needs of not only Latinos but non Latinos, young professionals, African Americans, Asians Moroccans and the many other groups that make up the fabric of the community.
“This was the original intent was it it not?,” said Scott. “It was a library that was open to all and it seems all we are hearing is it will become a building that is only open to some.”
Others, like EHCA board member Charlie Lograsso said he was tired of the bait and switch tactics of some developers and called for more transparency.
“We are here to protect the community process,” Lograsso said to Caldarelli and Ramirez. “It opens a whole can of worms if we just roll over and allow projects we supported as a community to change after they receive approval.”
Lograsso and others pointed to the Seville Theater project on Meridian Street, which was supported and received approval for 66 units. With the project under construction the developer is now pushing to add an additional four units and eliminate some commercial space.
Following the meeting, Rep. Adrian Madaro and City Councilor Sal LaMattina could be seen having a heated exchange with Caldarelli.
“I just did not appreciate that Mr. Caldarelli came to the meeting and laughed off legitimate concerns of the community and acted as though he did not need to listen to those concerns,” said Madaro.
Caldarelli could be heard several times telling residents the project was a ‘done deal’ and that the neighborhood’s concerns did not matter because the project is moving forward.
Veronica Robles, EBECC’s Frank Ramirez, Attorney Jeff Drago and East Boston CDC’s AL Caldarelli discuss changes to the Meridian Street Library project at a heated community meeting last week.