Lawsuit filed in Superior Court to stop Tubman sale continues…for now

A lengthy lawsuit calling for an injunction to stop the sale of the Harriet Tubman House on Columbus Avenue has had a hearing in Suffolk Superior Court’s Civil Division, and is awaiting a ruling from Judge Mary Ames.
The voluminous and meticulous suit was brought by James Katsiane, a resident of 671 Massachusetts Ave. who was born in the South End and has lived here for 34 years. His suit outlines a number of concerns that have been expressed by those opposed to the sale for the past year, calling for a preliminary injunction to stop the sale.
The suit is against the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) for approving the project that unlocked the sale from United South End Settlements (USES) to New Boston Ventures for a new mixed-use condo development.
The BPDA said it could not comment on the matter, and USES said it also could not comment.
The Sun reached out to Katsiane, who has recently signed on to letters in the Sun opposing the sale of Harriet Tubman House, but he was not available.
“My association with the Harriet Tubman House and USES is lifelong, dating back to my time attending Head Start pre-school at USES during Mel King’s tenure at USES prior to the current Harriet Tubman House being built,” read the filing.
“Today, I am one of many in the community hopeful of stopping the sale of the beloved Harriet Tubman House from being sold and luxury condos taking its place on land at 566 Columbus Avenue,” it continued.
Katsiane also indicated he had volunteered at USES in the senior citizen programs, and had been employed to make short films in the early 2000s for USES programming with youth.
The lawsuit, which is about 70 pages long, has already had a hearing last week before the judge, who gave mixed results about the success of the suit in her comments at court. However, the BPDA had moved to dismiss the case, and she did not allow that just yet. She has given Katsiane more time to file briefs this week, and she will rule on the injunction at a future date.
What the case hinges on is the fact that there were covenants established under Urban Renewal for the Tubman House to be used only as a community resource. When the BPDA Board approved the project late last year, they also lifted those restrictions.
Katsiane claims that was done without community input and in error. Noting that his own family was displaced from Albany Street under Urban Renewal, he wrote that the scars of Urban Renewal for long-time residents and minority residents run deep, which is one reason the City deeded the Tubman House to that community to assuage those wounds.
Selling it now and lifting those covenants and restrictions has opened them up again, he wrote.
He referred to a City memo on June 4, 1970, that put restrictions on the facility and amended the Urban Renewal Plan for the purpose of creating a community facility to serve the needs of neighbors in the Lower Roxbury portion of the South End.
“The recorded documents are clear: the BRA amended the South End Urban Renewal Plan for the purpose of permitting USES to construct the community facility, as USES had promised to do under the land regulation in the Plan,” read the suit.
In a statement to the court, Katsiane said he and others that have helped him on the suit do not oppose a development at the site, but they do oppose anything that is not following the ‘community use’ identified in the Urban Renewal Plan.
He said they would approve of something that “first and foremost functions to serve the needs of the community,” as it has done for more than four decades.
There are no further dates outlined for the case, and no new briefs had been filed by Monday. However, the judge is expected to make a ruling soon on the matter.

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