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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

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.

Emotions high as advisory panel hits Surface Artery plan

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 7/18/2002

* Complete text of bill establishing Mass. Millennium Greenway Trust
* Text of letter from Task Force to Legislative Committee

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino's advisory task force on the Surface Artery objected to almost every section of the proposed governing legislation yesterday during a meeting that lasted twice as long as planned.

Emotions were high among the group of about 30 representatives of public and private organizations who have been involved in planning for the 30 acres that will be created in downtown Boston when the elevated Central Artery is demolished and the expressway placed underground.

"It's almost scary, some of what's in this legislation," said Jason A. Aluia, legislative aide to Representative Salvatore F. DiMasi, a Democrat who represents downtown Boston.

Task force members are frustrated because they were not included when the bill to create a public trust to control the land was written. They debated whether to oppose it outright, or to try to amend it in the few days left before the Legislature adjourns July 31.

"What we can say to the Legislature is, `You've got to be kidding,' " said Rob Tuchmann, cochairman of the task force, responding to a section that would invite the trust to take control of other land outside the downtown corridor.

The group's criticisms will be included in what Tuchmann estimated would be a 40-page letter to the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee, which has scheduled a public hearing for 10 a.m. today.

"This just needs so much more work," said Anne Fanton, executive director of the Central Artery Environmental Oversight Committee.

The criticisms, ranged from fears that the measure is patently illegal, to concerns that environmental promises won't be kept.

Critics also worried that public access to the Surface Artery open space will not be guaranteed, and that neighborhoods will have no say in how the land is used and managed.

Fred Yalouris, director of architecture for the Big Dig, drew gasps when he said a provision that would give all the money earned from development parcels to the new trust may be illegal.

"Probably the single greatest item of concern for the Turnpike Authority," he said, "is a federal law that requires revenues from federally funded projects to be returned to the US government."

The proposed law, agreed to last week by Menino, Acting Governor Jane M. Swift, and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran would give most of that money, estimated at $85 million to $150 million, to a Massachusetts Millennium Greenway Trust, which would control the land.

But federal law would conflict with that, and, "We don't see a way around it," Yalouris said.

The only other funding source for the proposed trust, which would function as a quasi-public authority, is $4 million that would be drawn from a surtax on businesses within a quarter-mile of the corridor. But that idea was attacked, too. Several task force members noted that the Boston City Council might not approve the so-called betterment district assessment, leaving the trust without funds.

And the Boston Society of Architects, among nine detailed criticisms in a letter to the task force, said funding should not fall so heavily on the business community. "We suggest equal funding from the city, the Commonwealth," and businesses "to reflect the shared use of this space."

The architects and others objected to a proposal that the trust create a "final corridor plan," because the Surface Artery has been intensely discussed for more than 10 years and a master plan already produced. Writing a new plan would delay development of the open space for at least a year, they said; already, it is not expected to be complete by the time the Big Dig is finished, early in 2005.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which manages the highway project and has had responsibility for Surface Artery planning, recently issued requests for proposals from designers for most of the corridor, which extends from Causeway to Kneeland streets.

The governance bill was criticized because it emphasizes development over parks, because it would create a 27-member board of directors that is officially powerless, and because some fear it would turn into an "octopus" that would grow too large and powerful.

"We've replaced a physical green monster with an administrative green monster," said Lawrence Rosenblum, a Leather District resident.

Chris Fincham, a Harbor Towers resident who opposes creation of the trust, said he was "very disappointed the city has so little representation" on the seven-member board that would have control of the land.

"The mayor wouldn't share that opinion," responded Mark Maloney, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, repeating Menino's view that his power is sufficient because he will appoint the board's chairman. He defended the legislation and responded to some of the complaints, but left before the contentious meeting ended.

One broad objection was to the absence of any professional standards for the team that would be hired to oversee the land, or words describing a vision for the space.

"The executive director has to be somebody who has previously sat at the right hand of God," said Tuchmann. "This person is going to have to be superhuman."

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

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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