2019 was a big year for the City of Boston, between passing new legislation, conversations about the opioid epidemic and homelessness, more development, and the election of new City Councilors. Here are 19 stories for 2019 that impacted the South End, Back Bay, Fenway, and Kenmore neighborhoods.
1. In January, State legislators and the governor were able to come to a last-minute compromise in a short-term rental regulation bill. The final version left intact several key provisions that were championed in the neighborhoods – particularly the ability of the City to levy taxes and also the ability of the City to keep a detailed registration of all short-term rentals in Boston.
2. In February, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) announced that it would sell its building on Berkeley Street by 2022 and move to another location in the city. BFIT owned this building for 11 years, and President Tony Benoit said that the building no longer serves the evolving needs of the school.
3. In March, Rep. Jon Santiago hosted a very well-attended opioid epidemic town hall in the South End, where people spoke out on this issue that has plagued the city—the South End is one of the neighborhoods it has hit the hardest.
4. In March, the announced they would be piloting a designated pickup/dropoff location for rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft on Boylston Street in the Fenway. With growing concerns in the city about these services holding up traffic and posing threats to pedestrians and cyclists, the City said in a recent hearing that the Fenway pilot was successful and they will be extending it to several other neighborhoods.
5. After District 8 City Councilor Josh Zakim announced that he would not be seeking reelection, the race was on to fill the seat. When it came down to Jennifer Nassour and Kenzie Bok after the preliminary, Bok won the race with 70 percent of the vote, and will very soon be sworn in to represent Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway-kenmore, Mission Hill, and the West End.
6. In April, Scape, a British-based development company, proposed to build a dormitory building at 1252-1270 Boylston St. that would provide fully furnished living spaces for graduates and undergraduates in the city in an effort to get them out of residential apartments. After outrage from the community, particularly from supporters of nightclub Ramrod/Machine, which currently calls the space home, Scape came back in October with a new proposal for 477 units of residential housing with retail.
7. In May, newly chosen School Superintendent Brenda Casselius made her first public appearances, where she promised to listen to parents and teachers about what they do and don’t like about Boston Public Schools.
8. After numerous public meetings regarding the relocation of the Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain to the South End, the conversation continues regarding what will happen with the land once the move takes place. State officials from the Department of Health and Human Services did say that the land would not be turned over to open green space, but several Jamaica Plain neighbors and organizations like the Emerald Necklace Conservancy are trying to make it happen.
9. In June, the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) held a homelessness forum, at which many perspectives were provided and the public was given the chance to speak out on how the issue affects the neighborhood and the city. The City and other organizations were also given a chance to discuss the work they have been doing to get people the help they need.
10. In June, Time Out Market food hall opened at the historic Sears-Roebuck building at 401 Park Drive, and features 15 eateries with food from Boston’s top chefs and restauranteurs, as well as two full-service bars. The food hall is just a portion of the reactivation of that corner of the Fenway—an ice rink also recently opened on the new lawn out front, and Trillium Brewing Company also opened a location at 401 Park.
11. In July, the Fenway Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Jamaica Plain-based City Life/Vida Urbana sent a bus full of activists down to Connecticut to protest what they say is unfair treatment and evictions of elderly women living in the Our Lady’s Guild House in the Fenway. The building is intended to provide housing to low and moderate income single women, but the Fenway CDC said that no agreement could be reached between the property owners/manager and the tenants could be made. The building is owned by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, who live in New Britain, Connecticut. About 45 people boarded a bus down to Connecticut, where they chanted and held signs in front of the nuns’ residence. The CDC said that none of them came out to respond to the protest.
12. In July, the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) held a meeting to get answers from the city regarding homelessness and drug users on the streets of their neighborhood, where the problem had become increasingly prevalent over the summer.
13. In August, the City held a public meeting regarding its “Operation Clean Sweep” effort, which led to the arrests of 34 individuals with outstanding warrants in what is known as “Methadone Mile” as a result of an assault on a corrections officer earlier that month. Soouthenders and other residents swarmed South End Library Park and demanded answers from the city in a meeting that got out of hand. People began shouting over one another, making many uncomfortable. The City explained their efforts in addressing the issue.
14. In August, the Straight Pride Parade was held in Boston, against the wishes of many. The leaders of the parade said they wanted to promote the idea of having people calmly talk about issues like gender, sexuality, and moral values. Many counter protesters attended the event, and some were sprayed with pepper spray by the police.
15. The Mass/Cass 2.0 plan was debuted by the City in October, with key elements like dedicating more city employees to the South End and spreading out needle exchange services. The plan was championed by Mayor Walsh in response to a spiraling problem for vulnerable addicted populations and neighbors in the Worcester Square and Newmarket areas.
16. In October, the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts at 85 West Newton St. in the South End was officially condemned by the City of Boston. The building, which is also home to the IBA preschool, has been proposed to be demolished due to financial hardship, but the South End Landmark District Commission is hesitant to release the project from its purview and want to see it restored, and hearings are ongoing about the fate of the existing building.
17. In November, Mayor Walsh and Fenway Sports Group broke ground on the MGM Music Hall, which will accommodate up to 5,000 patrons and be adjacent to Fenway Park on the corner of Landsdowne and Ipswich streets. The four story, 91,000 square-foot music hall will be operated in partnership with Live Nation and is set to open in 2021.
18. In December, new guidelines for sandwich boards in the commercial district of the Bay Bay were approved by the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC), and are set to take effect April 1. The BBAC will approve a standard design for display boards within the district, there can only be one board per 25 feet of building frontage, the location must be on private property (locations on public property will be approved on a case-by-case basis where it is physically impossible to have one on private property), display boards are only allowed outside during business hours, and they must be approved by the property owner. Additionally, all current sandwich boards will be banned as of April 1, 2020.
19. After much back and forth regarding the Alexandra Hotel in the South End on several different issues, JB Ventures, owners of the hotel, reported in December that they have reached an agreement regarding mitigation for the project with the Tenants Development Corporation, who own an abutting housing development. JB Ventures said that the resolution will prevent any delay to the project, which is to restore the hotel and create a 156-room boutique hotel to the area.