Martyn Roetter Returns To Post As NABB Chair

After spending three years away from the position while still serving on the group’s Executive Committee, Martyn Roetter has returned as chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay board of directors.

​Roetter, who previously served for three years in the role of board chair from September of 2017 until September of 2020, when Elliott Laffer assumed the helm, first became aware of NABB in April of 2005, when he and his wife, Joyce, relocated to Beacon Street from Lexington as recent empty-nesters and were looking for ways to meet their new neighbors.

Martyn Roetter, who has returned as chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.

​The couple began attending wine tastings and participating in wine-and-dine groups hosted by NABB, but Roetter said he didn’t become “seriously involved” in the organization until he learned of Fisher College’s plan in 2013 to substantially expand its base on Beacon Street – just one block away from the Roetters’ new home.

​Roetter soon agreed to serve on NABB’s Executive Committee, and his duties and responsibilities within the organization grew. But it still came as a surprise in 2016 when Vicki Smith, the organization’s chair at the time, asked Roetter to succeed her in the group’s leadership role.

​Roetter went on to lead NABB for three years, before Laffer took the reins as chair for his own three-year tenure in the role beginning in September of 2020. Laffer then passed the torch back to Roetter during NABB’s annual meeting this Sept. 18 at Fisher College.

The Nominating Committee came to Roetter several months ago and asked him to resume his role as chair for another one-year term.

“I wasn’t expecting to be chair again, but it turned out it was difficult to find new blood in the leadership,” he said. “They were looking for new people, which is perfectly understandable.”

But despite him returning to the helm of NABB, Roetter said one of the group’s “internal goals is to bring now people into leadership positions [since] some of us are getting a little long in the tooth.” (Roetter jokes that while he might not be as old as President Biden, he was born within a decade of him.)

Since the pandemic struck only six months before Roetter stepped away as the group’s chair in the fall of 2020, people were still growing accustomed to using Zoom, leaving many organizations, like NABB, wondering what would happen next during this precarious time.

​“It took time for us, like many people, to adapt to operational requirements and the etiquette of Zoom meetings,” he said.

​NABB took another step forward in technology earlier this year with the launch of its newly revamped website, which Roetter describes as “a major achievement in getting us into the beginning of the 21st century.”

​As the pandemic wore on, NABB emerged in good shape financially, said Roetter, boosted in part by some regular expenses that the organization didn’t incur during COVID, along with the sound guidance of its Finance Committee.

​One issue that NABB began taking on before the pandemic struck involved the fate of the Hynes Convention Center.

​In the fall of 2019 during Roetter’s first stint as NABB board chair, then-Gov. Charlie Baker considered selling the Hynes. NABB, however, strongly opposed the plan, which the state subsequently abandoned about a year ago.

“It gave us an opportunity to really, solidly cooperate with the Back Bay Association,” said Roetter of the concerted front between the two groups to oppose the plan.

While NABB represents the interests of the Back Bay’s residential community, the Back Bay Association contrastingly champions the neighborhood’s businesses.

“In a mixed neighborhood like the Back Bay, [the two groups] don’t always have the same priorities, for obvious reasons,” said Roetter.

But at the same, there’s often synergy between the groups, said Roetter, since Back Bay residents patronize the neighborhood’s businesses “and depend on them flourishing.”

Added Roetter: “We often have mutual interests, even if our priorities aren’t identical.”

Likewise, Roetter said NABB tends to achieve better results when the group works in cooperation with elected officials.“

“We’re more likely to arrive at better outcomes  than when we’re operating independently or opposing each other,” he added.

NABB now looks forward to working closely and collaboratively with incoming District 8 City Councilor Sharon Durkan, just as the group has done with Rep. Jay Livingstone, who, Roetter said, was “enormously helpful” in regard to the Hynes matter, since the building is a state rather than a city asset.

As the city now ponders a home-rule petition that would redefine the Boston Planning & Development Agency, Roetter wonders what the impacts of the city’s ongoing $16.9 million renovation of Copley Square Park will be.

Copley Square Park is a “very important part of the Back Bay that plays multiple roles,” said Roetter, including as a park or neighborhood square for residents and workers to visit and enjoy; as a “cultural center,” which attracts visitors from around the country and the world; and as the hub for facilities and services for the Boston Marathon each year.

Since the project isn’t expected to wrap up until next fall, Roetter wonders where these facilities and services will be located in lieu of Copley Square Park when the Boston Marathon returns in April.

Roetter hopes “sufficient notice” of plans for next year’s Marathon services and facilities will be given to residents  so they can adjust their schedules and plans accordingly.

In another matter, Roetter said while NABB recognizes  the “value” of having bike lanes that aren’t disconnected and segmented, it doesn’t mean that the group would support the implementation of bike lanes on any street or  location in the neighborhood. He described the city’s original proposal to create a separated bike lane along Berkeley Street that would link Tremont Street to the Esplanade as “extremely undesirable and dangerous.”

“If we had been asked at the beginning, we would have avoided months of controversy that got to be extremely heated at some points and unnecessarily so,” he said.

Looking ahead, Roetter hopes to help foster better community engagement with the city.

As he sees it, typically after a Letter of Intent is filed, the BPDA and developer often work on a project extensively behind the scenes before they bring their proposal to the community, rather than the community having a hand in crafting the projects as they evolve.

“I want to see a much-more interactive, two-way process,” said Roetter, adding that he would like to see NABB “contribute positively” from the onset as new projects get underway in the neighborhood.

​Allowing more community input in projects from the start would give the city the opportunity to “head off aspects of projects that will arouse opposition before we spend a lot of time and effort,” said Roetter.

And this way, he said, projects could benefit from the input of NABB members who have an extensive knowledge of the neighborhood, as well as a wide range of career knowledge.

“We’re a volunteer organization, not like the external consultants the city hires. We do this at no direct cost to the city,” said Roetter.

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