At Monday night’s Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association meeting, City Councilor Lydia Edwards gave an end of the year report on the Council’s successes during 2020 as well as victories addressing local issues like the Suffolk Downs development.
“Suffolk Downs I think was by far one of the biggest issues,” Edwards began at the meeting Monday night. “It is the biggest privately owned project ever in Boston’s history so that took a great deal of time and this year we voted to approve the initial zoning for it. That does not mean it’s a complete and absolute approval for the next 20 years it just means they get the start. There are many amendments and they have to come back to the community to announce what they’re going to do and go through the process for each amendment. Again, as it’s the single largest private development in our history it meant we were going to have to lead in a special way and we couldn’t just accept what is typical for development.”
One victory was ensuring that upping the affordable component from 13 percent to 20 percent as well as calling for more construction of family-size units.
“Seventy percent of our units in East Boston are two or three bedrooms but Suffolk downs, as originally proposed, had 70 percent of their units as one bedroom and studios and that was unacceptable. So we pushed that down, and got it closer to 50 percent to be units for families.”
Edwards said the city also made sure that there was some immediate relief given to Eastie because of the pandemic and got up to an $800,000 commitment between the city and the developer.
“The first $200,000 should be coming in the next week or so, just to East Boston residents,” said Edwards. “ We are the first community to have a neighborhood stabilization fund. We also made sure we develop for all and we develop with our eyes towards an integrated community that celebrates our diversity.”
Edwards also discussed her Fair Housing amendment and how it can improve the lives of thousands of residents in the neighborhood.
“The Fair Housing movement is something that we really got national attention for,” said Edwards. “This fair housing amendment essentially says that we are going to take our civil rights, we’re going to take our understanding of what is equitable, we’re going to take our protected classes of individuals–whether gay, lesbian, or bisexual or transgender, people of color or immigrants–and say our zoning laws will reflect a plan that includes fair housing for all. It must include them. It’s a federal mandate that the Trump Administration walked away from. Essentially we’re saying to the BPDA you’re going to plan better. You will plan but you won’t plan it in a way that assumes that families belong here that affordable housing belongs there and displacement shouldn’t be something that naturally happens. The community process should be more inclusive. All of those things are now part of our zoning code and we’re the first state and city in the nation to actually demand such at a local level. For those of you who have or might be history buffs you’ll know that zoning has been by far the most effective tool at discriminating and segregating our communities, especially Boston. Being able to hold developers accountable is exciting for me and is one more tool for a lot of neighborhood associations and people to make sure that our communities actually heal and get better as they build and grow. And if they don’t provide for healing and if they don’t provide for making us better they shouldn’t get the permits, they shouldn’t be allowed to build here because this probably isn’t the community for them.”
Edwards also discussed Zoning Board reform and changes that are being discussed.
“Zoning Board reform I think is by far the one thing that has impacted most people, and has been the most well received in terms of what we’ve gotten done,” said Edwards. “Initially proposed as a home rule petition that was very wide sweeping in its revamping the zoning board, the membership, how it operated, demanding that it actually included members from urban planning and environmentalist backgrounds as well as term limits.”
Mayor Martin Walsh took the proposed home rule petition and took out proposed changes that he could act on immediately through executive order.
“So now we have in the executive order that requires board members to recuse themselves of projects with a conflict of interest,” said Edwards. “We instituted electronic notices, better records and timely information so that you will be able to sign up on a project by project basis and be able to receive all notices about a given project. Also the language accessibility is something I’m very passionate about.”