Thursday, November 13, 2008

Landmarking Letters

The guidelines for making Fort Point an Historic Landmark District are going to be voted on by the Landmarks Commission. The committee has worked hard to draft guidelines that will protect the historic character of the neighborhood and make sure that new buildings and development projects are able to go forward in a way that respects this.

At the public meeting, there was some pressure by the large landowners to have more control over the committee and process, and you can bet they will make their opinions heard. I encourage all Foint Pointers to write a letter to the Landmarks Commission. They can be mailed or faxed:

Katie McLaughlin
Boston Landmarks Commission
Boston City Hall, Room 895
Boston. MA 02201

Fax: 617-635-3435



The letter should state how you're connected to the neighborhood (resident, owner, business owner, etc.). Some talking points to consider:


1. The Appointment and makeup of the Commission.


-Long-term stakeholders need representation. The Landmarking process was initiated by the advocacy of such existing community organizations (FPAC,
SAND, FPNA, FPCC, etc.) and represents years of work and effort on their part. Each of the Community organizations should have an ex-officio representation on the commission, to ensure long-term neighborhood representation.

-The representation of commercial owners and developers on the district commission needs to be BALANCED to restrict CONFLICT OF INTEREST and to ensure due community process.

-There are recent owners and developers who have allowed buildings to go vacant and deteriorate, while waiting to resell them. This short-term interest has caused blight in the district with numerous vacant buildings that will most likely remain empty during the current economic downturn.

-The City has a precedent where residents are given greater deference on a
commission because they are most impacted, and represent long-term interest.

-The ability or interest of the "OWNER/ Developers" regulating themselves if
made the sole composition of the board, is limited, especially in the
current climate. Many of these individuals/owners already belong to other
organizations with overlapping interests and during the public comment
process have used these organizations as a tool for pushing development
interests and agendas within the landmark process.


2. REGULATIONS VERSUS GUIDELINES.

- Developers are arguing for a watering down of the proposed Standards and Criteria that were modeled after similar Landmark Districts in the City.

- During the public comment process, much of the language was already revised in response to property owner/ developer concerns for special circumstances and potential economic hardships. For example, in many instances the word 'shall' was replaced with the word 'should,' to address concerns voiced. The Standards and Criteria as written represent a document reached through public process that is comparable to those in place in other districts throughout the City and should be approved as such.

-The Commision's role in interpreting the guidelines painstakingly crafted over a nearly two-year process must be clarified.

-The landmark district regulations must mirror similar successful regulatory practices in other districts in the City (South End, Back Bay, Aberdeen).

3. Specific Regulations being sought to be changed by developers: a. Retail storefronts, b. Additions to Buildings, c. Demolition by Neglect

-Each of these issues (retail storefronts, additions to buildings, and demolition by neglect) have been raised several times in the Study Committee over the course of several meetings each, and as drafted represent a balance between development and conservation interests.

- Last minute representations by paid counsel of a few developers should not override the hundreds of hours of testimony and letters provided by the community.

-The current guidelines are modeled after successful Landmark regulations in Boston and in other Cities, where such relations have resulted in the restoration of historic districts in the context of new mix of commercial, retail and residential redevelopment.

-Study Committee member Mr. Young Park, who is a developer in the district, himself noted in the final public meeting at the Children¹s Museum on October 29, 2008 that these Landmark Guidelines would ensure the preservation of long term value of real estate investments.

-Given the thoroughness of the Landmark study and Drafting process, it would be appropriate for the Commission to approve the Regulations as currently formulated, and revisited after a four year of time for their effectiveness.

-Arguments based upon short-term commercial or financial interests must not be allowed to override the long-term public goal of ensuring the preservation and restoration of this unique historic district.

-As evidenced through real estate values in other historic districts across Boston, guidelines for responsible restoration and adaptive re-use have not limited the financial viability of development, rather they have enhanced property values. As developer and study committee member, Young Park noted in his final presentation that real estate economics are impacted more by the residential market than by guidelines for restoration of historic assets.


4. DUE PROCESS

-Objective criteria of the Distinctive features of the neighborhood, listed after extensive publicly documented study, must not be allowed to bereplaced by subjective criteria developed by commercial development interests.

-The substance and intent of the guidelines as drafted have been endorsed by the Elected Officials (Councilor Linehan), the City-- (BRA), and the respected Boston Preservation Alliance.

- Owner interests in the district during the process have used their influence to get tenants to speak in their favor (in some cases misrepresenting the goals of the Study and Landmark process). If the owner/ developers are left to manage the District Commission, it would be difficult to ensure the community as a whole that there would be a fair review of projects.

-The objective of these Landmark regulations is to encourage good restoration and rehabilitation of this unique historic resource, and to prevent demolition by neglect and poor design and narrowly defined short-term commercial interests. Even during this process, buildings in the neighborhood sit vacant, and in some cases in deteriorating condition.

-The Landmark study and process has been exemplified by strong and fair Civic engagement, meetings have been open to the public and comment has been carefully considered by the Committee during the more than a year and a half of the process.

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