Not So Fast:Community,Council Put a Stop on Flower Exchange Project

By Seth Daniel

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) on Tuesday suddenly removed a planned vote from its meeting scheduled for today, May 12, regarding the voluminous Boston Flower Exchange property.

And the situation has many in the South End furious.

“That Flower Exchange property is a very significant piece of land and will have a significant impact on the South End,” said Steve Fox, moderator of the South End Forum, at Tuesday’s meeting. “If we weren’t an urban renewal zone, this could not have transpired. They would have had to go to the Zoning Board and that would have triggered a public process. That goodness the City Council has intervened to conduct a public process. Something slipped through the cracks. I think we have it covered now.”

The intended vote for the BRA today, May 12, regarding a proposed modification to the South End Urban Renewal plan, a change that in the official language would change the permitted land uses for Parcel 48B –which is located at 540 Albany St. and is known as the Flower Exchange. It was to change the use from Light Industrial to residential, commercial and accessory parking.

BRA spokesman Nick Martin informed the Sun on Tuesday that the vote had been cancelled and said on Wednesday that there was no intended slight by the BRA.

“It was not our intent to unduly alarm residents of the South End or withhold information related to the Flower Exchange, and we apologize for not communicating more proactively,” he said. “Understanding that we could do a better job in this regard, we decided to postpone any proceedings before our board on the matter so that we have an opportunity to explain the rationale for amending the land disposition agreement that applies to the site. We will work with the City Council to provide a public briefing prior to asking our board to take action on the matter.”

The situation highlighted what has been a hard pill to swallow for the South End, Fenway and the Back Bay – that being lumped back into the Urban Renewal District for another six years via a reauthorization vote by the City Council earlier this year. Many in the South End, Fenway and Back Bay did not want to be included in urban renewal again – mostly because it allows the BRA to circumvent the usual public process traditionally activated by requests to City boards like zoning.

At the Forum on Tuesday, many in the audience praised Fox and other members of the community for catching the near-vote and getting the attention of those on the Council, such as President Michelle Wu. Fox stressed that there hadn’t even been a public hearing on the proposed zoning change, which will allow for the expected residential development on the parcel, the plans for which so many have been anticipating for so long.

Allowed heights on the property are 200 feet, and it is expected that multiple residential/office towers will eventually occupy the coveted, prime piece of real estate.

A public hearing before the City Council is expected to be called in order to accommodate the community’s request. It was not immediately known if that public hearing would take place in the neighborhood or at City Hall.

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