By John Lynds
Following a contentious Eagle Hill Civic Association (EHCA) meeting last month regarding changes to the former Meridian Street Library project, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) Director Sheila Dillon said DND will hold a community meeting to discuss the changes and get feedback from residents. The meeting will be held on Monday, June 27 at 6 p.m. at the Mario Umana Academy on Border Street.
Problems began at last month’s EHCA meeting when residents began questioning the community process in regards to East Boston Community Development Corporation (CDC) being named designated developer and then making changes to the original proposal. After the meeting residents and EHCA members began calling for DND to start over and send the project back out to bid. This was made clear after CDC head Al Caldarelli and EBECC Director Frank Ramirez 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. His comments were later followed by the East Boston Ecumenical Council (EBECC) Director Frank Ramirez’s comment, “Latinos 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.”
Those at the EHCA meeting–many of whom are longtime community activists that have worked decades to unify and not divide Eastie along race lines–were offended by the comments and several walked out of the meeting.
However, Dillon said the project and CDC’s role can be salvaged if the community works together.
“We felt we had a very good Request for Proposal process,” said Dillon. “We know their has been a change to one of the tenants and we are asking the East Boston Community Development Corporation (CDC) to make a presentation on the changes and explain how the programs will benefit the entire East Boston community. I have met with the developer and made it very clear that programming has to serve all of East Boston in a varied and open way.”
While Dillon said the DND has no interest in starting the process over, the community has moved past playing ball with the CDC and want to see the project sent back out to bid.
Last Friday, EHCA member Blythe Berents started an online petition at www.change.org calling for residents to demand the project be sent back out to bid. As of Tuesday the petition had 65 of the 100 signatures it was looking for. Once the petition hits 100 signatures a copy will be sent to Dillon, Mayor Martin Walsh, City Councilor Sal LaMattina and Rep. Adrian Madaro and Sen. Joseph Boncore.
“At a recent meeting of the Eagle Hill Civic Association on May 25th, 2016, the treatment of the residents in attendance by Frank Ramirez of the EBECC and Albert Caldarelli of EBCDC was one of arrogance and disdain for the opinion of those who voiced concerns that the proposed project was now dramatically different from what was originally presented and that the community should be able to have a new vetting process to decide the best use of this historic building,” the petition reads.
In response to the online petition, Caldarelli sent an email to residents and community leaders that was obtained Monday by the East Boston Times asking them not to sign the petition and called the Eastie residents that raised legitimate concerns at the EHCA meeting a ‘goon squad’.
“You have been requested to sign a petition that is loaded with misinformation and outright lies,” wrote Caldarelli. “A goon squad associated with one of the losing developers totally disrupted the meeting, canceling our opportunity to inform residents as to the true nature of our proposal…if you have any sense of fairness I suggest that you hear both sides of the argument before you sign petitions, especially one that will easily be proven to be far from the truth.”
Joshua Scott, one of the more vocal residents at the EHCA meeting, took offense to being dismissed as a ‘goon squad’ by Caldarelli.
“As an Eagle Hill resident I was never a member of any proposal,” said Scott. “Was it a lie what EBECC gentleman (Ramirez) stated?”
Online petition creator, Berents also took offense to being called a member of a ‘goon squad’ for disagreeing with Caldarelli.
“He (Caldarelli) does not live in Eagle Hill and is obviously unaware that most of us at that meeting, who vociferously questioned whether the process should start over again, are regular attendees of the EHCA meetings,” said Berents. “We are not goons. We are passionate residents who love our community and want the best for all residents of East Boston.”
Scott pointed out this isn’t the first time Caldarelli and the CDC have been called out by community members as a designated developer for a DND project in Eastie.
In 2012, six years after the CDC was named the designated developer for the Boston East Site on Border Street, residents became concerned that the CDC and Trinity Financial is changing its original plan of a majority market rate development on the waterfront to a majority affordable housing development.
The original plan called for 200 units with only 26 units (13 percent) being affordable—the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s requirement for new development. After being picked as the DND’s designated developer the CDC upped the affordable component to 52 units (26 percent), doubling the BRA requirement.
Caldarelli also took some flak several years ago when proposing to build 27 affordable unit at 170 Maverick Street. At a community meeting Caldarelli insinuated that the development would be for ‘East Boston families and their children who want to stay in the neighborhood’.
Some at that meeting called Caldarelli out and reminded others that under fair housing laws, if a project is accepted and built as affordable rental housing with tax credits and HUD funding, the CDC, by law, had to hold a lottery for the units and were unable to guarantee that the families would be Eastie based families.
In the end only one Eastie family was able to secure housing at 170 Maverick Street when it was opened.