Letter to the Editor

NABB and Hullabaloo in Back Bay

Dear Editor,

I read the piece on 29 Commonwealth and the Zoning Board deferral in the last issue of The Boston Sun, including some of the quotes from the people who have been actively lobbying against this project.  Some quotes are amusing — including someone being concerned about the roof deck at 29 Commonwealth overlooking private residences, with up to 30 people allowed on the roof.  I live across the street at 50 Commonwealth, in a nine-story building, with a large roof deck that allows 57 people on it.  We have parties there regularly, and play music, and barbeque — we have to issue tickets on the fourth of July because of demand for the space.  I don’t think anyone in the neighborhood notices that this is happening.  The lobbying around this proposal has all been one-sided, at least in my building, which has been deluged with flyers with “Keep Calm on Comm Ave” on one side and hysterical scare tactics on the other side — no substantive analysis.  The Neighborhood Association of Back Bay (NABB) held a social event at the Algonquin Club where the incoming chair made a speech lobbying against 29 Commonwealth Ave. — with (younger) people “and their indulgences” in a “European-style” private club. Drugs and prostitution were mentioned.  All of this — along with the annual meeting a few weeks later— took place in a private club that is going to seed because it is an anachronism and its members are aging –the scene was like an ironic passage in a Graham Green novel.  The lobbying has been very contentious and not remotely neighborly, and it is being carried out by NABB and NABB members.

The same type of thing is now going on with the planned medical marijuana dispensary at 331 Newbury St., which NABB has taken a stand against and written an amusing form letter about that has been sent to all of us who are members, for us to forward to the Zoning Board.  Seventy-eight percent of the residents of Back Bay voted “yes” for medical marijuana. By taking a stand against this dispensary, NABB is reinforcing the stigma around medical marijuana, a stigma based on fear and ignorance. It’s a big complicated world and we are all ignorant of much in it, so there is no shame in such ignorance.  However, a marijuana dispensary on Newbury is just what is needed to help change attitudes and eliminate the stigma, and NABB should be helping to educate the older people who do not understand medical marijuana, not foster ignorance.

The Boston Sun article said that 100 Back Bay residents showed up to protest the 29 Comm Ave proposal sporting “Keep Calm on Comm Ave” stickers.  I wondered if they looked like a lynch mob, and how many of them were born during the last 50 years, or had considered the impact that zoning the building residential might have on street parking.  Someone should do a well-researched article on NABB, who joins it, how much of the Back Bay it represents, and the decision-making process that results in the types of positions and lobbying that we are seeing around these two proposals.  In the case of 29 Comm Ave., the Licensing and Building Use (LBU) committee of NABB was by-passed and the Executive Committee took the decision it did.  In the case of 331 Newbury St., the LBU ruled in favor of the medical marijuana dispensary, but the Executive Committee took a decision against it.

I am told NABB is the most contentious neighborhood association in the City.  I am a member of it, and I am beginning to see why it has this reputation, as it appears to be well-deserved.

Maggie Huff-Rousselle

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