Walsh stops by OHNC meeting

Mayor Martin Walsh made a surprise visit last Tuesday to the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council’s (OHNC) February meeting.
The Mayor, who had previously visited OHNC members a few months back, said his visit was part of a promise he made to the group to have an open and frank discussion about some of the issues on residents’ minds.
Walsh started tellingthe OHNC that he got his start in a life of public service by attending his local community group in Dorchester.
“I was just like you,” said Walsh. “So the work that you do I really appreciate it. You are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood and keep a watch on crime, development and a whole host of other issues, and I thank you for that.”
Walsh then got into the meat and bones of why he was at the local community meeting–OHNC members’s concerns over the explosion of development in the neighborhood.
“We got caught in the middle of a major housing crisis,” said Walsh. “Years ago, people were leaving the city for many different reasons. Then around 10 years ago things started to change and people wanted to move back to the city. Students who went to college here wanted to stay, Baby Boomers started moving back and companies started to invest in the city and bring jobs to the city so it really was a perfect storm that was brewing.”
Walsh explained that the demand for housing led to a demand in housing development.
“When I was campaigning here in 2013, the one thing I heard over and over again was when was it going to be East Boston’s turn,” said Walsh. “People wondered about the waterfront, they wondered about the housing stock and wanted to see more investment in the neighborhood.”
But as the saying goes be careful of what you ask for.
Walsh said Eastie became a very desirable neighborhood for developers and over the next six years, as the demand for housing increased, the demand for development in the neighborhood also increased.
Walsh directly addressed the criticism he’s been hearing from OHNC members that the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals rubber stamps every project that comes before the group.
“It’s simply not true and the numbers are misleading,” he said. “People throw out this number that the ZBA approves 90 percent of the projects that go before them but that number is a little skewed.”
Walsh said what residents don’t see is the dozens of projects that don’t have community, elected official or BPDA support and are pulled off the docket.
“So we never really get an accurate number because a lot of these projects don’t go up to the ZBA when they know it is going to be a no vote,” explained the Mayor. “They either go for a deferral and continue to work with the community or they pull the project all together.”
Walsh said since October the ZBA has only approved three projects in Orient Heights. Those projects were a three-family on Ford Street, a five-unit development with 10 parking spaces on Crestway and another three-family on Boardman Street.
“Alll those projects came before you a lot bigger but the developers worked with you, the community, and brought all these projects down to scale and moved forward,” said Walsh.
Walsh also pointed to a couple of other projects in the area that were drastically scaled back. The project at 119 Barnes Ave. was reduced from seven units to four while the project at 119 Coleridge St. was reduced from 19 units to nine.
“So a lot of these projects do get scaled back and then work for the neighborhood,” said Walsh.
Walsh also pointed to two projects that have yet to receive community, political or BPDA support that are currently in limbo.
“The project on the corner of Ford and Boardman Streets and the hotel pitched for Saratoga Street do not have our support so they are not moving forward right now,” said Walsh. “The developers still have a lot of work to do with us and with the community.

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