CSN opts to not sign letter asking for moratorium on city-owned parcels in District 7

During its Sept. 7 monthly meeting, which was held virtually, Chester Square Neighbors (CSN) opted not to sign a letter from the ad hoc District 7 Advisory Group asking the city to put a moratorium on the development of all city-owned parcels in that district.

CSN President Carol Blair is among the neighborhood leaders participating in the Advisory Group, which was convened under the leadership of City Councilor Tania Anderson and meets via Zoom for two hours each Saturday.

“This status quo is unacceptable, as it severely limits our ability to determine the nature of development and merely enables the [Boston Planning & Development Agency] and the [Zoning Board of Appeal] to rubber stamp projects that are already in the works by developers,” the Advisory Group’s draft letter reads in part. “We are a predominantly working class, Black and brown community, that for too long has had to accept such an arrangement with the political and economic elite of our city, and we are calling for said arrangement to be terminated and replaced by one that integrally incorporates our perspective and involvement in every step of the development process.”

Members of the Advisory Group believe Roxbury has become a “dumping ground” for low-income rentals, said Blair, prompting the requested moratorium on the development of city-owned parcels in District 7 until the city’s development process can be “retooled” and made more equitable.

“If we sign on to [the letter], we’ll have to decline to talk to BPDA and developers about [future development projects in District 7],” said Blair.

“The BPDA tends to talk with developers about a proposed project, then decides on the type and scale of the project before bringing it to the community for review,” she added. “The desire is to get the community involved in the development process and for the  community to decide how parcels should be developed.”

CSN member Sara Mitchell, who was against signing the letter, expressed concern that it “sounds negative,” and that refusing to participate in the development process until a moratorium is put in place seems “backwards.” Instead, “you should really participate and lobby hard” for more appropriate development projects in the district, she said.

The sense at the meeting that the letter isn’t sufficiently clear about the intent and ramifications of a moratorium for CSN to choose a position, and CSN members in attendance indicated they would like  to hear more information before voting on the matter. Group members also said they would like to invite Councilor Anderson to a future CSN meeting for further discussion on the issue.

Mass Ave Coalition Festival

Less than two weeks ahead of the Mass Ave Coalition, “a festival like no other” scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 18, plans were still being finalized for the event.

A four-piece jazz ensemble will perform on the brick extension to the park at the end closest to Shawmut Avenue beginning at 1 p.m., and then after taking a short break, they will resume playing and be joined by a second ensemble performing on the opposite side of the park. After both ensembles engage in a “call and response” portion of the program, the original ensemble will pack up and leave it to the second group to finish the music program, said Blair.

Bob Barney, president of the Claremont Neighborhood Association, had been awaiting word from the city on his request to dedicate the corner of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenues as “Jazz Square” at 12:30 p.m. the same day. If that plan had moved forward, the group would have then paraded to Chester Square Park to help kick off the festival at 1 p.m. Since the Sept. 7 meeting of CSN, the Jazz Square dedication has been postponed, however, until the city could make  signs for the occasion, Blair told this reporter.

At the festival, “The Crosstown Jazz Exhibit,” featuring excerpts from “Once Upon a Neighborhood: A Timeline and Anecdotal History of the South End of Boston,” a book by South End author and historian Alison Barnet, will be on display on the park’s fences. Barnet will also be on hand at the event, answering questions about the exhibit and selling her books.

Blair also asked for volunteers to “take on what could be another exhibit” comprising historic photos of Chester Square, which would be posted on clotheslines on the park’s fences.

A table would be set up in the park to distribute literature on the four neighborhood associations (CSN, the Claremont Neighborhood Association, the St. Botolph Neighborhood Association, and the Worcester Square Neighborhood Association), as well as on the Mass Ave Coalition itself, said Blair.

The South End Historical Society at 532 Massachusetts Ave. is planning an open house to coincide with the festival, said Blair, and a volunteer could be charged with notifying passersby of their event.

Blair also asked for volunteer “stair climbers” to place door-hangers on neighbors’ front doors to notify them of the festival. (Bob Barney had ordered 500 door-hangers for the festival, which were expected to arrive over the weekend or on Monday, said Blair.)

Other volunteers could  be recruited to take on a variety of different tasks, including setting up the festival and “dressing” Mass Ave, as well as announcing the festival so passing vehicles will slow down.  To volunteer for the festival, email [email protected].

The event will also include a presentation of Mass Ave data hosted by Northeastern Professor Michelle Borkin, said Blair, while Northeastern students will also be volunteering to help take a headcount of festival-goers. (Information from the festival’s lotteries, which will feature gifts donated by area businesses, will also help facilitate the headcount for the festival, said Blair.)

Northeastern students will also be assembling an “analysis” of the festival for use in a future classroom project, said Blair.

Moreover, Blair added that volunteers would be needed to help mark locations on the 15-Minute City map, pinpointing how most of residents’ basic needs can be found and met by walking no more than 15 minutes from their homes.

Since $500 has been allocated for distribution among five nearby pizzerias, volunteers would also be needed to transport food from the restaurants to the festival on a continual basis, said Blair.

Various items are still needed for the festival, including tables, chairs, tents, and extension chords, among other supplies.

Additionally, Blair asked for volunteers to help design a variety of posters to help promote the festival and even suggested holding a “poster party” for this purpose.

Sara Mitchell of CSN also asked Nick Bornstein from Rep. Jon Santiago’s office if Santiago would be able to provide “medical resources” from Boston Medical Center for the festival (e.g. offering a “doctor’s booth,” or providing on-site blood pressure testing). Bornstein responded that he would pass the request on to Rep. Santiago.

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