Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Herald Article on BRA Meeting

Fort Point residents reject developers’ office plans
By Thomas Grillo | Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The city’s chief planner and a pair of developers faced an angry crowd in Fort Point last night as a proposal to turn five vacant buildings into offices was rejected by the neighborhood.

In an emotionally charged session, a standing room only crowd criticized the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Archon Group for abandoning a decade of planning to create a mixed-use district.

“You lied to us,” said artist Claudia Ravaschiere to the Archon representative. “You talked about doing residential, but you have not kept one promise to this community. To you it’s just real estate, but to us this is our home.”

During the tense meeting, Kairos Shen from the BRA floated a compromise that would allow four-dozen artists to keep their leases in the South Boston district until 2010. In return, Lincoln Property Co. can turn a pair of vacant warehouses at 316-322 Summer St. into office space and Archon could proceed with an office project at 49-63 Melcher St.

But residents, including many artists, said the proposal was a bad deal for the city.

“For the BRA to offer this deal to artists who are losing their space at the 11th hour is cynical and divisive,” said Steven Hollinger, a member of the Seaport Alliance for Neighborhood Design.

John Matteson, Archon’s regional director, defended his firm’s actions saying they acquired 17 commercial buildings where the average occupancy rate was about 25 percent. Following major renovations and leasing, the improved properties were later sold, he said.

Valerie Burns, a longtime Fort Point resident, said both projects are unchanged from previous community meetings. “The neighborhood was absolutely unified in opposing these projects and now you come back to us with the same project only with a commitment of a temporary relocation for a small number of artists,” she said. “This is a case of the BRA supporting the developer over the wishes of the neighborhood.”

Shen said he thought the plan that would save some artists workspace for two years and get a pair of projects moving was worthy of discussion. But he acknowledged the mistrust between the parties.

“I know our plan is flawed,” said Shen. “But I still think it’s a good plan.”
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