This week City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who was sworn in as District One’s new city councilor last January,
released her one-year report highlighting the issues, accomplishments for 2018, as well as her goals for the next year.
“I am extremely grateful to have represented our communities the past year in City Hall as district city councilor,” said Edwards. “It’s been rewarding to roll up my sleeves and get to work maintaining and improving your quality of life as a resident of East Boston, Charlestown and the North End. I started this journey running on a campaign platform promising to govern with integrity, independence, and to make an impact by speaking truth to power on behalf of my constituents.”
In an interview with Edwards on Tuesday morning, the City Councilor said, “above all else, development has been a major concern for residents here.”
“I feel as though all eyes are on us, with development projects like Suffolk Downs and others, and people are looking at whether or not we are going to navigate as a community or be torn apart as a community when it comes to development.
Edwards said Eastie’s last master plan was completed eighteen years ago so in May she called for a new neighborhood plan to tackle issues such as housing affordability, transportation and climate resiliency. The Boston Planning and Development Agency has since announced PLAN: East Boston, a multi-year initiative to solicit resident feedback about planning and zoning for the area, and the council has, in partnership with city agencies and community groups, held multiple hearings.
However, Edwards said one of her proudest and most pivotal moments so far as a City Councilor came when she held the first community-wide Master Plan meeting.
“I think we sent a signal with that meeting,” she said. “We had the hearing and the community showed up in a way we haven’t seen in a while calling for a plan and change. There was a real unified sense of community in that room. I think the signal we sent that night was that the community intends to be part of every discussion and every dialogue when it comes to development and we are not going to sit back and be told how it is going to be. So when developers see that unification and willingness to come together I think in many cases they have been listening more to the standards that we want to set for East Boston.”
Edwards, who has made ‘smart development’ part of her agenda for the first year, said developers are not ‘evil’ but there was a lack of guidance and community standards so development was sort of all over the map.
“The community process is not just a box to be checked off before heading to the BPDA or the Zoning Board,” said Edwards. “We, the residents here, are an important part of the process and developers have begun to realize they will develop in a way with standards that made sense for not only themselves but for the community as a whole.”
In November, the Zoning Board enacted an interim zoning overlay, which allows for greater review of development during the next two years while long-term zoning is established.
“We look forward to collaborating with the City and community to best define our neighborhood for generations to come,” said Edwards.
Aside from development, Edwards has tackled short-term rentals like AirBNBs, working on legislation to help seniors on fixed incomes pay back taxes as well as reexamining entities that take part in the city’s PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program.
While she’s tackled tough issues and been going nonstop since taking office, Edwards said the job has taught her a few important lessons.
“One of things I’ve learned is a great deal of humility,” she said. “At the end of the day my job is truly about listening and learning from folks about what they are dealing with. Some people want to vent but most genuinely and honestly have no place to turn and are calling me or my office, sometimes as a last result. I never thought nor did I realize how emotionally connected I’d become to so many people in the District.”