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Beyond The Big Dig
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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.

Foes rise against greenway plan

Say governance bill falls short in the area of public accountability

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 7/17/2002

* Complete text of bill establishing Mass. Millennium Greenway Trust
* Reaction of Artery Business Committee
* Reaction of Conservation Law Foundation
* Conservation Law Foundation's proposed modifications (.pdf)
* Reaction of Mayor’s Central Artery Completion Task Force

A bill to create a public trust to govern the post-Big Dig Surface Artery corridor was filed in the Legislature yesterday, but opponents vowed to derail the plan, saying the new organization would lack accountability to the public.

''I'd rather see grass on that property for five years,'' said Larry Rosenblum, a member of the mayor's advisory task force on the surface artery. ''Once this monstrous entity is put in place, there's no turning back.''

Yesterday, Acting Governor Jane M. Swift formally proposed emergency legislation to create a Massachusetts Millennium Greenway Trust, run by seven people appointed by the governor and the mayor of Boston.

If the bill is passed before the Legislature adjourns this month, the new group would immediately take control of 30 acres of open space and development parcels downtown, created by putting the Central Artery undergound. It would control the design and construction of parks, as well as their operation, and oversee development on half a dozen parcels and receive the revenue from leases on the land.

The bill differed in several ways from the draft that was available last week, when Swift, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran announced they had resolved longstanding issues of finance and control.

The governing body would no longer be a nonprofit trust, as previously planned, but would instead be a ''public instrumentality,'' modeled on quasi-public agencies like the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

The latest version of the legislation, which has been worked on since March, is expected to be hotly debated when the mayor's advisory Surface Artery Task Force meets this morning.

It is also scheduled to be the subject of a public hearing at 10 a.m. tomorrow before the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee. But critics, many of whom have loudly protested being left out of the process of creating the new governing body, didn't wait for public meetings to sound off.

''I've got some very serious concerns about it,'' said Bennet Heart, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. ''Our stand is it's more important to get this right than to get it done by the end of the session.'' The legislative session ends July 31.

''It creates essentially a land development agency, when really the whole point of taking this from the turnpike was to focus on parks.''

He also assailed the proposal for lacking public accountability, saying it would ''function much more like a private entity in terms of things like appointments.''

And Heart said the bill ''doesn't adequately protect open space.''

City and state officials who wrote the 31-page bill strengthened its public-accountability provisions over previous drafts, ensuring that meetings and documents produced by the trustees would be open and available to the public. But many of those who have read the measure say it leaves them -- and even city officials -- too little power. State and city leaders have wrestled over control of the land -- and over who would finance a staff to maintain and run it -- for two years.

''The first paragraph talks about `emergency legislation,''' said Larry Rosenblum, a member of the mayor's task force. ''They only had 10 years to plan it and think about it. Now they have to do it in 20 minutes? It's a joke.''

Rosenblum said the organization could become so powerful it would be a ''bludgeon,'' adding, ''I can't understand why the mayor would agree to that.''

Under the bill, two larger boards -- one of directors, another of advisers, and both made up of representatives of civic groups -- would be appointed to support the seven trustees. They would have no direct power.

Some revenue from leases on development parcels would be used to finance the new organization. However, most of the $6 million annual budget would come from a ''betterment district'' surtax on businesses along the Surface Artery Corridor or within a quarter of a mile of it.

Richard Dimino, president of the Artery Business Committee, said he is still unhappy with the funding provisions. ''We want to make sure it's fair and reasonable,'' he said.

Dimino also would like the law to require certain qualifications for trustees.

The governor would five appointees and the mayor two, although the mayor would be given the power to choose the group's chairman. Dropped from the bill was a section allowing the House speaker and Senate president to recommend candidates, though a spokesman for Swift said she would consult Finneran and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham about her appointments.

Another last-minute change is that residential property owners no longer would be exempt from the surtax, as they were in a previous version of the legislation.

Timothy McGourthy, special assistant to Boston Redevelopment Authority director Mark Maloney, said that change would make virtually no difference when determining who pays to support the new downtown greenway. The reason, he said, is the first $50,000 of any property owner's taxes would be exempt from the greenway surtax, eliminating almost all residential property owners.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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