Clarification of NABB’s Positions and Role
As the incoming (and now current) chair of the Neighborhood Association whose speech at the Algonquin Club is referred to with misleading implications I would like to respond to Maggie Huff-Rouselle’s letter in your Nov. 9 issue. Regrettably its contents are replete with factual errors and omissions that I, and others, have already identified and refuted in direct communications with her, which however she has chosen to ignore.
NABB has made clear on multiple occasions both to her, as well as in widely available documents submitted to public officials, that its opposition to the proposed club at 29 Commonwealth Ave., whose entrance would be on Berkeley Street, is based on solidly researched and validated concerns and findings. These findings address primarily the club’s predictable impact on the already regularly overloaded traffic situation along Berkeley Street as well as on the new and additional safety risks it would create in the adjacent Public Alley 423, and at already notorious accident hot-spots in the immediate vicinity. NABB is not opposing the concept of the club itself, which might indeed be welcome at another location zoned for commercial enterprises. Nor does it reflect an implied distaste for the “indulgences of younger people” or suggestions of drug use and prostitution. NABB’s opposition is founded upon the recognition and evaluation of the inherent limitations of this site for accommodating the necessary operations of the proposed club due to specific and unalterable physical constraints. For example there is no loading zone, so it is proposed to commandeer scarce on street parking spaces for valet parking in front of the club’s entrance, thereby blocking an additional traffic lane that is now open during rush hour. This third lane helps the overall traffic flow at peak times, and also provides space for emergency vehicles during these periods to reduce the delays they may otherwise encounter in reaching their destinations.
In the course of reaching its decision, while not so incidentally hosting two meetings at which the proponent presented her case, NABB consulted with traffic experts and people involved in the restaurant and hotel businesses to assess the information provided to us by the club’s proponent and to develop our own analyses of its consequences, as well as measure the traffic associated with the building in its current office use. Operationally and in all but name the requirements and consequences of this club are identical to that of a large restaurant and bar (with over 350 seats) plus a 17 room hotel and a fitness center. The proponent claims that the impact of such an operation, seven days a week and active from early morning until late into the night (a night club in all but name), would be smaller and less deleterious in terms primarily of traffic and safety, but also of other factors, than the building’s current office uses which operate during normal business hours only, and that there are ways to make this so. The expressions of support for the club uniformly repeat this claim, without which their support cannot be justified. However this claim is not credible and has been exhaustively refuted. NABB has made it known that conversion of the building to residential use or its continued use as a location for professional offices, whether in the same or in a different mix, would be welcome. In short the club proposed for 29 Commonwealth Ave. pits the needs and interests of the many, both in and outside the Back Bay, against the wishes of a few.
NABB’s position is also misrepresented in the case of the marijuana dispensary. This position is again location-specific. It does not represent opposition to medical marijuana dispensaries. The proposed location is adjacent to residences. We have heard strong objections from parents with young children who live there, and a few of these children, to having the dispensary operate so close to where they live. NABB’s decision is the result of these objections. In its deliberations in the Executive Committee NABB recognized that there are also good faith arguments in favor of this application for a marijuana dispensary. We respect those who disagree with our decision on the basis of these arguments and the supporting evidence they bring to the table, and for the same reason they should respect ours.
NABB strives to conduct deliberations and discussions in a civil and respectful atmosphere, allowing for all sides on an issue to present evidence, even, or especially when there are deeply felt opposing opinions. There is or should be no place for the kinds of blanket insults such as the depiction of a group of people opposing the club at 29 Commonwealth Ave. as a “lynch mob”. This “mob” comprised Back Bay residents at very different stages of life who have given thoughtful attention, time, and effort based on personal knowledge of the location at 29 Commonwealth Ave. (also known as 282 Berkeley Street), to the consequences of operating the proposed club not only for themselves but also for the much greater number of commuters, visitors and contractors who regularly drive down Berkeley Street. They have also considered the vehicles and pedestrians (including toddlers from the adjacent nursery school) and vehicles who park in the narrow and hard to navigate abutting Public Alley and the risks posed to them by vehicles from the club (valet parkers and taxis/Uber/Lyft) who would predictably use this alley as a short cut to Clarendon Street when Berkeley is highly congested.
Sadly the tactics of ad hominem attacks and of tarring entire groups and organizations as somehow illegitimate and unworthy of consideration have become increasingly common instead of civil and rational discourse about controversial issues which respects facts and evidence, recognizes good faith and plausible arguments on all sides and does not rely on insults, innuendos and unfounded assertions to make a case. I hope that this will not become the norm in the Back Bay.
Martyn Roetter, Chair Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, 160 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02116