Maura In The News

Chinatown Groups Rally for Control Over Parcel 24
By Adam Smith / Sampan Newspaper / May 24, 2004

Holding signs resembling giant one-dollar bills, about three dozen Chinatown residents and activists rallied on May 10, calling for Chinatown control of Parcel 24, a slice of land along Hudson Street that was once home to Chinese and Syrian families until highway construction displaced them about 50 years ago.

At the demonstration, Hudson Street for Chinatown coalition members announced their "vision" for the development of the parcel. A result of two years of community meetings, number crunching and sketch drawing, the vision includes desired heights of buildings in the parcel, the number of low-income units to include, and who would own the land. The parcel is now owned by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and will come up for development at the completion of the Big Dig project.

"We are tired of always responding to developers' visions" of what will be built in Chinatown, said activist and coalition member Lydia Lowe, standing just feet away from the concrete wall of a busy highway ramp -- the current use of Parcel 24. Once that highway ramp is razed, Chinatown groups say, they want Chinatown residents to have a major role in the development of the acre-sized slice of land. In recent years, large development projects -- such as Liberty Place and Kensington Place -- have met strong opposition by residents who feel buildings proposed by commercial developers and approved by the city development agency, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, are too tall, go against community plans and zoning, and are priced too high.

The Asian Community Development Corporation took the lead in the fight for Parcel 24 early on, saying that land was essentially taken from homeowners who resided there before their row houses were demolished by highway workers. During the construction of the ramp, said the Chinatown-based organization, residents were forced to move and were poorly compensated for the property they lost. Those living on the opposite side of Hudson Street, the side that was not demolished, didn't fare well either, say community members and those currently living there. For decades, Hudson Street residents, who live in red brick row houses across from Parcel 24, have looked out their windows only to see a highway ramp, noisy and dirty from constant traffic.

In its vision for the parcel, the coalition said that heights of the new buildings should match those of the buildings on the other side of Hudson Street, and they should range in height from three stories on the southern end of the street to 18 stories on the northern end. As for the number of apartments and condos, the coalition hopes to see 275 to 300 total units, many of which would be subsidized for low income earners. The coalition also proposed that the housing complex provide a large number of affordable condominiums to increase home ownership in Chinatown.

"We want to see maximum use of available public subsidies," said Michelle Yee of the Chinese Resident Association.

To maximize the number of affordable units on the site, the coalition has urged the Turnpike Authority to sell the land for a nominal fee of $1.

"We are confident that what is proposed in the 'vision' can be done," said Douglas Ling of the Asian Community Development Corporation, "if the land is conveyed to the community for a nominal value. I think that is the key point." At the meeting after the rally, a member of the coalition asked if the Turnpike Authority would commit to selling the parcel for $1.

"No, I'm afraid not," said Bill Tuttle of the Turnpike Authority. Tuttle said that the authority might lower the parcel's value by designating the site for mostly affordable housing, but that a $1 price tag would be unlikely.

As for whom the parcel would be sold to, the coalition hopes a trust would own the property to ensure the affordable units would be permanent. Selection of a developer for the project would be subject to approval by the Chinatown Neighborhood Council and the Chinatown Resident Association.

So far, many city and state officials have supported the coalition's vision for the parcel. Senator Dianne Wilkerson, whose district includes Chinatown, had filed for a bill that would guarantee Chinatown control over the parcel and city councilors have said they'd back the coalition's vision for the parcel.

Councilor James Kelly, who represents Chinatown, said at the rally: "What the goal is here is simply to ask the state to give back what it took 50 years ago."

Aides from the offices of councilors Felix Arroyo and Maura Hennigan also attended the event.

While the Hudson Street for Chinatown coalition has met regularly to create its non-official vision for the parcel, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority have also held a series of public meetings to discuss the issue. So far, the two have followed a similar direction, even collaborating at times. The evening of the rally, the city agency invited the coalition to present its vision for the parcel in front of an audience of 150 community members.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority will issue requests for proposals for the development of the parcel, select the developer and decide the cost of the parcel. The Boston Redevelopment Authority will prepare use and design guidelines for the parcel.

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