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.
Effort fails to form trust for artery's greenwayBy Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 8/1/2002
Efforts to create an independent public trust to develop and oversee a Surface Artery Greenway downtown died yesterday, opposed by legislators and public groups who contend it was rushed and riddled with problems.
City and state leaders gave up after frantic efforts in recent weeks to refine the bill, meet the objections of business leaders and environmental groups, and put the land in the hands of a newly created, authority-like organization by the end of the legislative session last night.
The Surface Artery land is seen as the jewel of the $14.6 billion Big Dig and the public's reward for enduring years of inconveniences from construction work.
Three public hearings are being scheduled for the fall on the Surface Artery governing legislation, which is expected to be taken up as soon as the next legislative session begins, in January.
In the meantime, those on both sides of the issue said, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority should continue to oversee the process of soliciting design teams for the open space blocks that will materialize from Causeway to Kneeland streets when the Big Dig is complete.
Opponents of the Massachusetts Millennium Greenway Trust legislation, which would have put a powerful seven-member board of trustees in charge of both open space and development parcels over the new Central Artery tunnels, disagreed about what was wrong with the bill.
But most agreed it was better to continue a debate that has already gone on for 10 years and take the matter up again early next year than to pass incomplete legislation.
"It is better to do this right than to do this rushed," said Bennett Heart, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, which last week drafted alternative legislation that was embraced by several public groups.
The mechanism to finance downtown parks was uncertain, the proposed trust emphasized development at the expense of open space, and the new organization simply would have been given too much power, Heart said.
"We need to create a mechanism by which we can trust the trust," said Heart, making sure that decade-old environmental commitments are kept and limiting the proposed new entity's ability to acquire additional land and control public access.
There are also serious concerns about the legality of a provision that would have used revenue from development parcels to fund the trust's operations and care for the parks.
Speaking for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who had advocated establishment of the trust since announcing the idea publicly in March, Boston Redevelopment Authority director Mark Maloney said he was disappointed the bill would not become law before the session ended.
"We didn't have the complete buy-in from the Senate side, and we need to do more work to get their support," Maloney said.
He said the city would support the Turnpike "to make sure they really do a good job with the design," and also to include community representatives in the process.
Senator Robert E. Travaglini, a Democrat from East Boston, belatedly but vigorously opposed the legislation as written, joined by Representative Salvatore F. DiMasi, a North End Democrat who represents downtown.
Others agreed with Maloney that the bill did not have enough support to pass in the Senate, even if it survived a House vote. It was supported by Menino, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Acting Governor Jane M. Swift. Legislators worked furiously up until yesterday morning to try to create an acceptable document.
But meeting after meeting set for a vote of the joint transportation committee was canceled, and finally the drafters gave up.
"If this were easy it would be done by now," said Representative Joseph C. Sullivan, a Braintree Democrat and co-chairman of the transportation committee. "The idea is to use this document as a building block and hopefully create even more improved legislation that will receive a wider consensus."
Yesterday's development came after more than a decade of public planning and discussion about the Surface Artery land, one professionally created master plan, two years of inconclusive meetings by a legislative commission, and an even more intense effort by the Mayor's Surface Artery Completion Task Force.
Some fear that without clear leadership, the design teams being asked to propose ideas for the open space will face frustration and delays.
But most of those who have been involved in the planning said those concerns were offset by the fact that there will be additional time to reshape the structure of the trust that will control the land.
"Given the circumstances, the Legislature did the most reasonable thing they could do," said Patrice Todisco, executive director of the Boston Greenspace Alliance. "We'll have forums in the fall. Hopefully we'll have something ready to go by January."
A draft of the legislation, put together by a small group of people representing city and state officials, was not made public until about two weeks ago.
"The time frame was too short for meaningful decision-making," said Todisco. "They haven't been engaging the public."
Sullivan and Maloney said they believe the basic structure of the current legislation will survive. "We need a little bit more time to get it right," said Sullivan.
Richard Dimino, president of the Artery Business Committee, said he is sorry the bill didn't pass but will work for changes before it is brought up again, largely relating to the $4 million a year the bill called for downtown businesses to contribute annually for maintenance.
Business community representatives said they were being asked to pay too much of the cost, with limited representation on the controlling board. "There remained a number of issues unresolved relating to fairness, equity, and how the assessment was going to be put into effect," he said.
Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.