Letter to the Editor

On Beyond Hullabaloo in Back Bay…

Dear Editor,

At the risk of further fueling the Back Bay Hullabaloo, and in the interest of clarity and civility, I am pushing the “reply all” button for Martyn Roetter’s letter to the editor the week before Thanksgiving, with the two issues addressed separately.

Part 1: Medical Marijuana Dispensary and Stigmatization

In September I attended a NABB Licensing and Building Use (LBU) meeting where members present at that time discussed the LBU’s decision to support the marijuana dispensary at 331 Newbury St. and the NABB Executive’s decision to take the opposite position. Seven different members of the 40-member email group for the LBU have been in contact with me since that meeting.  Some were “respecting” NABB’s decision-making process and remaining silent, even though they supported the dispensary.  Others were blind-copying people on their email to the City in support of the facility.  Dr. Marvin Wool (against it) had a pleasant, two-hour conversation with me, and I sat beside him at the City Hall hearing where we had a good-natured chat.  He said the vote of the LBU was 4:2 in support of the dispensary.

My own letter in support of the marijuana facility, which state and city officials have thanked me for, has been forwarded to the Sun.  I worked in the field of Global Health for 35 years, in over 50 countries, and have substantive expertise and a particular interest in Global Pharmaceutical Policy, a topic I teach in graduate programs.  The City of Boston should be applauded for making the difficult but strategically important decision to locate a medical marijuana dispensary on Newbury Street; the decision of the Zoning Board was unanimous.

The problem with the NABB executive stance on the proposal was not so much that they chose to take an opposing position to that of NABB’s LBU, but that it was presented as a black-and-white decision that stigmatized patients, not as a nuanced and complex discussion of the realities of implementing the marijuana regulations for which 78-percent of residents have voted. Martyn stood in the line of those opposed and appears in the video that went viral with Oliver Curme satirizing those who are stigmatizing medical marijuana patients: denigrating veterans with PTSD, doing an imitation of an MS victim having a seizure, and women with breast cancer who wear turbans. Oliver did not intend to stigmatize medical marijuana patients; he intended to point out how others were stigmatizing them.  Without the satire, I said exactly the same thing in my letter to the City.


Part 2 – Private Club Proposal and a Companion Strategy of Stigmatization

There are many good things that NABB and NABB members have done for the Back Bay, especially related to the preservation of our architecture, the Commonwealth Mall, etc. The situation with 29 Commonwealth Ave. (which the LBU was not asked to consider) has been, one would hope, an aberration. I have not been an active proponent of the proposal, but I would be embarrassed to be among the protesters given their behavior.  Their lack of civility has been the subject of satire, and I am one of those guilty of having lampooned the behavior.

If NABB has studies that will help residents develop informed opinions, these should be shared with us.  What we need are studies that compare the conversion of the building to a private club with the conversion of the building to a residential unit – with up to 40 units.  If the building is residential, people will be living there (way past private club hours).  Cleaners and day-care providers and dog-walkers will be coming and going, along with other visitors.  Amazon will deliver groceries from Whole Foods, and uncoordinated deliveries of all stripes and colors will be arriving from all directions.  The City will issue residential parking permits that far exceed the spaces taken for valet spots for a private club, and there will be plenty of visitors using available metered spaces.  These residents will naturally have a roof deck and probably a small gym downstairs and perhaps a small social room.  They will do almost everything one might do in a private club, possibly play bridge or eat meals together on the roof.  The building is currently a somewhat derelict, half-occupied, office rental space with no one there at night, and NABB’s lobbying materials call for the building to be zoned residential.  I play chess, not poker, and I like to think a few moves ahead with various permutations in mind, so let’s play forward to see what the options are…  Let’s have an intelligent discussion, not exchange insults.

What we are getting from NABB, and have been getting since mid-August, is typical of what I have received the week before Thanksgiving.  On Tuesday there was a group email asking us to canvas the neighborhood to solicit negative letters about the proposal to the City, and offering a prize to whoever got the most negative letters. On Thursday morning, there were copies of the Boston Sun (with Martyn’s letter including alternative facts and innuendos) on the table in front of our elevator beside two stacks of flyers with “Keep Calm on Comm Ave.” on one side.  On the other side of one flyer were hysterical warnings about traffic – which is really terrible right on this corner (drivers use Berkley to access Storrow not because they are aiming for a destination in Back Bay).  On the other side of the second flyer there were photographs of the official plans for Haddon Hall on the left and alternative photographs on the right of wild parties, intended to stigmatize the type of people who would join the proposed private club.  These photographs and similar tactics are repeated in the NABB missives we get on-line, as headline articles, the NABB Facebook page, and the preservethebackbay Web site.  Stigmatization is the strategy.

The only time I have ever seen the proponent of the proposal was at an abutters meeting where she responded to the incivility of a number of those attending with a remarkable degree of consideration and respect.  She presented the plans to restore the building, including shrinking the roofline which is particularly unsightly when viewed from the large roof deck of my building across the street.  She seemed to be making every effort to respond to concerns that were raised, especially traffic, and yet men (and perhaps women) have openly attacked her, making snide remarks that are, at best, non sequiturs both in meetings and on email traffic.  The situation conjures up a political cartoon with “insults, innuendos and unfounded assertions” lobbed back and forth like so many tennis balls bouncing over a sagging net.  Rather than join a herd when someone says BAH, some of us would like to see facts and evidence, recognizing good faith and plausible arguments on all sides, not attempts to shame, intimidate and suppress debate. Check out the two websites for the protesters, and then check out the Facebook page, Friends of Haddon Hall, or the website haddonhallboston.com and consider how well civility is reflected in each.

Maggie Huff-Rousselle

Member of NABB

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