BPDA Would Fight to keep CBD Boylston Essex Urban Renewal Area

With the six-year extension of Urban Renewal implemented in 2016 about to reach its midway point, a Boston Planning and Development Agency official pondered the future of the Central Business District (CBD) Boylston-Essex area during a public meeting Monday at the Revere Hotel.

Christopher Breen, special project manager for the BPDA, said the city could choose to renew the Urban Renewal area, which extends on Boylston Street from Washington Street towards Tremont Street; expand or shrink its boundaries; or simply let it expire.

“We’re open to all of these options…but one of the reasons we wouldn’t fight to keep it is because of its small size…and because the city owns no property there,” Breen said, adding that in the instance that the Urban Renewal area is allowed to expire, the BPDA would schedule another public meeting to revisit the matter.

In August of 2016, the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Boston City Council approved a request from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (the BPDA’s erstwhile predecessor) to extend Urban Renewal by six years, Breen said.

(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, but it had the unintended consequence of displacing poor and marginalized residents.)

Breen said Urban Renewal provides the city with five major tools, including site assembly, which allows the BPDA to take both private and public property for certain public and private development projects; title clearance, which enables the BPDA to clear titles, which in some instances, go back hundreds of years and have gotten lost over time; vertical discontinuance, “which allows for some buildings to extend over the balconies with elements such as balconies and window sills” to help create diversity in the city’s building types and design; land use controls, which help to restrict development within the plan area; and Urban Renewal Overlay Districts, which pertains to properties located within the Urban Renewal area that aren’t currently Urban Renewal parcels.

Breen said the BPDA has also digitized and made available on its website information on the 1,500 parcels citywide bound by Land Development Agreements (LDAs), which puts additional restrictions on public and private properties that the city took ownership of via “site assembly,” as well as the roughly 300 BPDA-owned properties.

“[Interested parties] can now get the information in minutes instead of weeks or months,” Breen said.

Meanwhile, the city will evaluate all 16 Urban Renewal plans, 14 of which, including the one for the CBD Boylston Essex area, are up for renewal. Another seven Urban Renewal plans have already expired.

The public process to review each plan will be rolled out in three phases, with the first including the CBD Boylston Essex area; BPDA representatives will report their findings on the Urban Renewal plans included in Phase One next month, Breen said.

For more information on Urban Renewal and to submit comments, visit http://www.bostonplans.org/planning/urban-renewal/overview.

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