What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.
New group proposed for artery landTurnpike agency to cede control of use
By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 5/3/2002
State and Boston officials deciding the fate of 30 downtown acres that will crown the underground Central Artery agreed yesterday to place both the open space and development parcels of the land in the hands of a new nonprofit organization, a senior Swift administration official said.
Although legislation creating the entity still has to be written, the agreement eliminates one of the many uncertainties surrounding the future of the city's Surface Artery corridor despite years of public planning and participation.
The 30 acres stretching between Causeway and Kneeland streets, including a half-dozen valuable development blocks, will no longer be the responsibility of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, said the official, who asked that he not be named.
He said the small group that has been working behind the scenes to answer questions over financing and control of the land wanted to calm fears that environmental commitments made a decade ago might be scrapped.
Three-quarters of the land would remain open, or public, as called for in the environmental certificate for the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project a decade ago, the official said.
"There's no discussion of legislation that would seek to alter in any material way any of the preexisting commitments," he said. "There is now an emerging consensus we should move control of the Surface Artery corridor lock, stock, and barrel to a new entity as soon as possible."
The official said legislation to create the entity will be completed as soon as possible. "All the parties are meeting again next week, and we would like to have something out to be discussed in the next week if we can," he said.
For several months, and as recently as yesterday morning, representatives of groups that have been involved in planning for Boston's post-Big Dig future have expressed fears that the process had been hijacked.
Larry Rosenblum, a Leather District resident and member of Mayor Thomas M. Menino's Surface Artery Task Force, an advisory group, said, "All we're doing is running cover for people to say this is a public process. It's shameful."
Menino reacted to such frustration in an interview recently, saying that the task force had done excellent work and that many of its ideas were being adopted.
Yesterday, the Swift administration official said the people writing the new Surface Artery legislation -- representing Acting Governor Jane Swift, Menino, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham -- want to make sure there is consistency in the development and long-term care of the new parks, public spaces, and buildings.
Mark Maloney, executive director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and cochairman of the task force, said, "The mayor is in accord with the governor on the concept of transferring all the parcels, including the development parcels, to the trust that we've been discussing, to control the greenway."
The Swift administration official said Turnpike officials also back the change, which would reduce their role in any Surface Artery matters that do not pertain directly to construction of the highway tunnel.
Revenue generated from the sale or lease of air rights on the development parcels would still be available to the authority to help cover construction costs, which have been escalating, he said.
Yesterday's agreement is in keeping with remarks made by Menino in a speech in March, which signaled a breakthrough in years of stalemated talks over the future of the land.
There is still no decision on who would control the new Surface Artery entity, except that it will be run by a board of trustees appointed by the governor, mayor, speaker, and Senate president.
"The final makeup of the commission isn't decided yet," the Swift administration official said.
There is also agreement, he said, that a dependable stream of money must be made available to operate and maintain the open space, so that it is not dependent on annual infusions from city or state governments.
The most important piece of the agreement yesterday had to do with the new commission or trust, whatever it is to be called. "This would be a planning authority with the ability to look holistically at the corridor," the official said, "to sort of elevate the debate rather than let it be done on just a parcel- by-parcel basis."
Anne Fanton, a longtime participant in the Surface Artery process and a member of Menino's task force, expressed concern yesterday that the new organization might not be as accountable as it should be.
"The open space parcels are a commitment made by the Commonwealth to the public, to be carried out by an agency fully accountable to the public," she said.
"Unless the entity simply takes the place of the existing Turnpike board and allows the present process to move forward, I see the proposed change as a violation of both the state and federal commitments that were made to gain project approval in 1991."