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Uphams Corner WAG - Phase I Closes with a Future toward Phase II

The Uphams Corner WAG (Fairmount Initiative Working Advisory Group) held its final (15th) meeting at the Kroc Center on Monday, March 24, 2014.  Both WAG and community members took great interest in the Open House results presented by the consultant and Chief John Barros stopped in for a surprise visit with 'good news' for the Uphams Corner WAG.



Community Priorities

Uphams Corner WAG Meeting #15The final and 15th meeting since the planning initiative's inception in July 2013 was designed to bring the group's  deliverable, The Station Area Planning Report, to a close. 

The meeting began with Cecil Group's Josh Fiala giving a presentation on community feedback on the Draft Report contents primarily from the February 26, 2014 Open House.  

He compared the BRA's set of "next step" priorities to what the community said were its priorities.  Using pie charts to contrast BRA and community priorities, Josh demonstrated how the community had painted a dramatically different "next step" vision  for Uphams Corner moving forward.

As Mr. Fiala remarked, the community "turned the priorities upside down."  The take aways were the community's insight and ability to express meaningful priorities while the BRA and the consultants had, in Josh's word, prioritized "nuts and bolts." 

Everyone agreed that both approaches are equally valid since all of the items identified by the BRA process need to be done.  However, as Joan Tighe said, accurately representing the community's priorities and vision in the report was paramount.

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Example

The Station Area Plan (as the report is called) includes six "next steps" in the Vision Statement, all of which are important to the future of Uphams Corner. The community priorities were collected at the Open House and via an online survey. 

The diagram below shows the extent to which the community priorities differed from the BRA / WAG order.  
  • Column 1 - Priority
  • Column 2 - BRA / WAG next step order
  • Column 3 - Community identified next step order
The red arrows show the first three BRA priorities falling while the blue arrows show the community priorities at the bottom of the BRA report rising to the top.  If we look at priority #1, the BRA / WAG identified "strengthening business" while the community said "minimize displacement."  Other report sections experienced similar upheavals.

Uphams Corner Fairmount Vision Priorities

While the consulting firm and the BRA were confident they could generate a final report based on the evening's presentation, both Joan Tighe, WAG member, and Nancy Conrad, community member, requested a comment period to provide feedback for the Final Report.  Jeremy Rosenberger, BRA, has agreed.


Anchor or Amenity?

A community member expressed concern about draft report language, in particular referring to the Fairmount Line as an "amenity" while the Strand Theatre is referred to as an "anchor." 
  • An amenity is "a feature that increases attractiveness or value" as in advertising an apartment complex that offers air conditioning. 
  • An anchor is "a source of security or stability" as in a business that attracts business and investment.
  • Clearly, the term "anchor" gives more "weight" than does the term "amenity." 
John Barros entered the conversation.  "Context," he said. "It all depends on the context.  If you are talking about the Strand Theatre, then, yes, the Fairmount Line is an amenity.  If you are talking about transportation, then the Fairmount Line is an anchor."  Josh Fiala agreed to review the use of terminology in the report and to adjust it appropriately.


New Approach to Economic Development

John Barros addressed the group on two issues:
  • a new approach to economic development in the City that could favorably affect Uphams Corner
  • the importance (as long as the WAG agreed) of the WAG continuing into Phase II
His appearance was a surprise to some attendees, but it was clearly staged.  Several people from DSNI who do not normally attend WAG meetings were present including Harry Smith, Glenn Knowles and Alex Knowles .  Chris Jones, WAG co-chair, is also from DSNI while John Barros held the position of DSNI Executive Director for many years.

John began with comments about the BRA.  "In all fairness to them," he said, "the BRA is not an economic development arm of the City  Their focus is real estate development. They work," he said, "project by project and do not necessarily look at the bigger picture of economic development opportunity which is what our organization is charged with doing."  John spoke of meeting with companies that may be interested in moving into Boston but ONLY if they can find a location that meets their needs.  And that is NOT how the BRA operates. 

An example is the Maxwell building on East Cottage Street.  The Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) held a community meeting in Uphams Corner on March 6, 2014 which presented factors to be included in the RFP, as reviewed in advance by the WAG.  Eventually, the BRA will be involved since this project is large enough to require a Section 80 approval. 

From this author's perspective (speaking as a community member), the factors to be included in the RFP seemed to be watered down, especially in light of the Fairmount Initiative work. An example is the Fairmount line's adjacency to the property.  While any potential developer was to pay attention to the proximity of the Fairmount Line to the Maxwell property, the wording to be included in the RFP did not place a strong emphasis (my opinion) on the term "transit oriented development."  And why?  The more restrictions placed on the RFP, the lower the probability of a developer coming on board.

John Barros' office approaches the RFP / economic development process as "match-making" - identifying the exact right economic development fit to a parcel of land. "What if," he asked, "a developer were willing to come in with jobs, housing, etc.  Would the community be willing to accept a higher density building or other concession to make the development viable for both developer and community - a win/win situation for both?"

Perhaps
  • Uphams Corner should not be so hasty in wanting to see the Maxwell property developed
  • The community could partner with the Barros office for projects coming down the pipeline rather than hoping the RFP worked out
  • This is what Uphams Corner has been waiting for - smart, smart development

The Birth of a WAG, Phase II

The last WAG meeting was about to come to a close - a finality with a report that would constitute the only written memory of the eighteen month long Uphams Corner planning process.  Without a follow-up to this phase of planning, the report could easily become the next office paper weight. 

John Barros talked about the typical planning process.  "What often happens is that planning is dropped and we let the developers react."  In effect, communities looking for a solution are more than willing to give the hen house to the fox.  (this author's words)   Mr. Barros continued. "The planning phase is usually far away from the bridge that carries a community to the other side, namely implementation." 

He suggested that an Uphams Corner committee (WAG) moving into Phase II would be good for the future of the community.  Were WAG members interested in continuing to meet? 

WAG members seemed to like the idea.  "Uphams Corner could become a model for how all the other Fairmount Station Area groups operate."  Highlighting the importance of the report, they pointed out that its contents was an "endless" list of the tasks needed to turn our community around, each one of which is a  project unto itself.

Community members asked that WAG membership be reconstituted to include more people from the community especially in light of how many Mayorally appointed members had dropped out.  One person said he still wanted the group to be Mayorally appointed but asked that membership be expanded to include youth and artists and any other stakeholder group that could contribute ideas and vision toward an effective outcome.


Thanks to WAG Members

Speaking for the community, Uphams Corner News offers a great big thanks to all of the WAG members whose commitment and hard work is already helping to create change for the better in Uphams Corner. 

And good luck in Phase II.

Uphams Corner WAG Meeting #15
Josh Fiala , The Cecil Group
Uphams Corner WAG Meeting #15
Kenya Thompson, BRA

Uphams Corner WAG #15
Joan Tighe, WAG and Flavio Daveiga, DNS
Uphams Corner WAG #15
  Drew Forster, WAG and Glenn Knowles, CAG

Uphams Corner WAG Meeting #15
Chris Jones, Co-chair and Jeremy Rosenberger, BRA
Uphams Corner WAG #15
Courtney Curran, WAG and Max MacCarthy, Co-Chair


Posted: March 25, 2014     Nancy J Conrad


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