City Ponders Future of Urban Renewal in Fenway

With the six-year extension of Urban Renewal implemented in 2016 nearing its midway point, the Boston Planning and Development Agency is now soliciting the public’s input on its future in the Fenway.

In August of 2016, the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the City Council approved a request from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (the BPDA’s predecessor) to extend Urban Renewal by six years, Christopher Breen, the BPDA’s special project manager, told those in attendance at a community meeting Monday at the Fenway Community Center.

Urban Renewal was created under the American Housing Act of 1949 to help stabilize rapidly declining U.S. cities in the aftermath of World War II, and while early Urban Renewal attempted to tackle widespread blight by assembling land to develop massive infrastructure and public facilities, it had the unintended consequence of displacing poor and marginalized residents.           

The city is evaluating all 16 Urban Renewal plans, 14 of which, including Fenway, are up for renewal while another seven plans have already expired. The public process to review each remaining plan is being rolled out in three phases, with the second phase including the Fenway.

The Fenway Urban Renewal area consists of the Symphony area, the Museum and the Medical Center area, and includes more than 20 Land Disposition Agreements (LDAs), which puts additional restrictions on public and private properties that the city took ownership of via “site assembly.”

The only Planned Developments Areas (PDAs) – defined by the BPDA as “ an overlay zoning district that establishes special zoning controls for large or complex projects” – in the Fenway Urban Renewal area are the Symphony east and west areas, Breen said.

A unique provision of Urban Renewal specific to the Fenway is that 1 percent of the cost of development projects in the neighborhood must be devoted to on-site public art amenities, Breen said, although some in attendance expressed their doubts that many developers have fulfilled this obligation.

Meanwhile, Fenway Community Center at-large member and longtime neighborhood resident Marie Fukuda said, “The community made a request to leave Urban Renewal when it expired [in 2016], since the Fenway is no longer a blighted neighborhood and has probably had the highest growth of any neighborhood in the city.”

Fukuda added mitigation from One Dalton and other projects in Fenway has benefited other neighborhoods.

Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association board of directors, questioned why Urban Renewal powers would “override” Fenway Planning and Rezoning, which was enacted under the Boston Redevelopment Authority (the BRA’s predecessor) in 2004.

“Everyone on the [Fenway Planning Task Force] devoted five years of their lives to this before voting the zoning through with incredible community input,” Horn said. “The zoning restricts the ability to drop down a PDA in the middle of the neighborhood so there’s a conflict. We want out, and we have good reason not to trust Urban Renewal.”

If Urban Renewal is again extended in the Fenway, Breen said he imagines the area would be considerably reduced. One reason the city might want to keep it, however, is because the city already completed its site findings and established an air-rights parcel for the ill-fated 1000 Boylston project and wouldn’t want to have to go back to the drawing board, if another project moves forward at that location, he said.

And in response to requests from several in attendance, Breen pledged to take a closer look at the Fenway’s LDAs at a future community meeting. For more information on Urban Renewal and to submit comments, visit http://www.bostonplans.org/planning/urban-renewal/overview.

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