City Council confirms appointments to BLC, BBAC

The City Council Committee on Planning, Development, and Transportation held a hearing on Feb. 27 regarding appointments or re-appointments to the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC). The BLC consists of volunteer members, some of which are appointed by the mayor, and others who are appointed by nominating organizations in the City.
Roseanne Foley, Director of Historic Preservation for the City of Boston, said that they look for a wide range of people to serve on the Commission, from architects to historians to landscape architects to real estate professionals.
“We have a variety of ways we get folks nominated for these positions,” she said. The Greater Boston Real Estate Board nominates people, as well as the Boston Chamber of Commerce, Boston Society Architects, and there is also a self-nomination system, Foley explained.
Commissioners up for re-appointment include John Freeman, Susan Goganian, Bradford Walker, and Christopher Hart. Joseph Castro, should he be appointed, would be a new Commissioner.
Councilor Michelle Wu asked the candidates what they believe the Boston Landmarks Commission should do differently moving forward.
Commissioner John Freeman, who lives in Roslindale and has served on the Commission for 22 years, said that due to the almost unprecedented peak in construction in Boston right now, a lot of stress is placed on BLC staff and commissioners. He suggested that some sort of solution be thought of to help the staff deal with the “huge influx of work” that has hit all of the Landmarks Commissions recently. He added that this also causes a stress on historical buildings, too, and suggested that the current 90-day demolition delay be adjusted to a longer period of time to allow people more time to come up with alternative solutions to demolishing a historical building.
“One of the things I’d like us to do is be more proactive about preservation in Boston,” Commissioner Susan Goganian said. She added, however, that this is not possible due to current staffing levels. She said there is a “cost to public confidence when we can’t get study reports done in a timely manner…we’re just way over capacity. We can all do better if we have more resources.”
Councilor Liz Braedon said that she agrees with this need to have more widely spread information about preservation in Boston, as she has noticed that sometimes the Commission is “scrambling to try and preserve something last minute,” she said. “Very often the wave of development we see is a constant use to fun those places off the map.”
Goganian suggested that legislation be passed that would require a minimum level of maintenance for historic buildings, as well as education to help people understand what’s around them and why it is worthy of being saved. She said that there is real estate value to a neighborhood that wouldn’t be there if historical buildings weren’t preserved.
Councilor Kenzie Bok agreed with Goganian as well, saying that the current staffing levels “are inadequate to take care of the historical characteristics we have in the city.” She said that questions around how to change the staffing support, as well as some of the tools that are available to talk about the history of important buildings in the city are something she is going to be advocating for. “Demo delay comes at the 11th hour,” she said, which could be avoided with more education and preservation. “If we had an upstream approach we’d be able to save more of the historical fabric.”
The candidates were also asked if there was anything “mechanically” about the Commission’s operation that they would like to see altered.
Goganian said that she doesn’t like wasting time, whether it’s her own or someone else’s, so she would like to see BLC staff make more decisions about what comes before the BLC for a design review hearing, so the Commission can make the best use of its time and resources at the hearings.
The City Council also held a hearing regarding appointments and re-appointments to the Back Bay Architectural Commission. Potential new Commissioners include Zsuzsanna Gaspar, Meredith Christiansen, James Berkman, and Ethel Macleod. Returning Commissioners for re-appointment include Kathleen Connor, John Christiansen, and Jerome CooperKing (who currently serves as an alternate).
This matter was brought out of the committee to the full City Council at its meeting on March 4, where they confirmed the above appointments. More appointments to other landmarks commissions will come in the near future.

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