With Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Redevelopment Authority Director Peter Meade’s time in office coming to an end, the BRA has adopted an accelerated building proposal review process to deal with a large increase in proposed projects.
In the past, BRA and Economic Development and Industrial Corporation meetings have been held once a month to vote on proposed construction projects, but the BRA added an additional meeting in September and another one in October.
“In recent months, the BRA has seen an increased volume of project proposals and there is currently more than $6.4 billion totaling 11.2 million square feet under review,” said Melina Schuler, spokeswoman for the BRA. “Boston is booming, and investors are bullish on our city.”
Meade announced in May 2013 that he would step down when Menino left office in January 2014. For the first time in 20 years, Menino is not seeking reelection as mayor.
Monthly meetings are scheduled to resume in November. Schuler declined to comment on possible political motivations for the increased meetings.
John Guilfoil, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said he believes that the increased frequency of meetings indicates Boston’s vibrancy as a city.
“Right now there’s a lot of interest in building in the city,” he said. “There have been a lot of project proposals coming in with the BRA, and I would not classify anything as rushing. … [More meetings] just shows that Boston is booming.”
Mass. Rep. Martin Walsh, and mayoral candidate, said he believes the BRA needs to adhere to its normal process, emphasizing the influence future construction can have on the City of Boston.
“These are projects that are going to have long-term impacts on the city that the next administration will have to manage,” he said in an emailed statement. “I am hearing loudly and clearly that many people are unhappy with how development decisions are being made in Boston and its neighborhoods.”
Natasha Perez, spokeswoman for mayoral candidate and City Councilor John Connolly, said communities do not get enough of a voice in construction and the more frequent meetings would only further that.
“We need to focus on returning neighborhood zoning questions to the neighborhood,” she said. “Some projects need to move forward, and it depends on the project, but we need to make more room for taking the BRA and ZBA [Zoning Board of Appeal] out of every decision.”
Some residents said they had concerns about the BRA’s lack of open communication with the people in the city.
“Construction begins in any section of the city and there’s no notice for any residents in any of the neighborhoods or businesses in the area,” said Jacqueline Czel, 42, resident of Jamaica Plain. “They just start work and everybody finds out when the trucks actually arrive.”
Heather Patenaude, 40, resident of Allston, said more meetings feel like the approval process is being rushed.
“With any building projects, if you are going too quickly, then obviously there can be issues with safety and zoning permits possibly, and who knows who’s the one going to be in charge of the buildings?” she said. “It could ultimately go too fast and bring in slum landlords, which I know has been a problem.”
Matt Hillard, 23, resident of Brookline, said he felt as if he was unaware of all the projects the BRA are pursuing, but more meetings still help the process go along.
“There are plenty of places in Boston that clearly need a lot of work, and there are a lot of universities, specifically, and other companies that need to expand,” he said. “They are running out of room. So I think the main benefit is having an authority that allows you to do that, that allows you to expand [and] that allows you to fill the needs you are not currently filling.”