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Chinatown group votes to extend supermarket lease on land sought for affordable housing

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  March 28, 2012 03:35 PM

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Rick Wong and Chungchi Che.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Rick Wong, standing at center, exchanged words with board member Chungchi Che, standing at right, who questioned why the organization didn’t publicly solicit proposals for the Herald Street site.

A Chinatown group approved a new 10-year lease with the C-Mart Supermarket for a property at Herald and Washington Streets, despite some members’ demands that group make good on a 1983 pledge to use the site to develop affordable housing.

Controversy over the new lease has flared anew in Chinatown in recent weeks and continued at a contentious Tuesday night meeting of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England, a powerful and historic business and social services organization based in Chinatown.

The group accepted the property on behalf of the community as part of a 1983 deal with Tufts University and New England Medical Center, both seeking expansion in Chinatown at the time. The agreement stipulated the land would be used to develop affordable housing. But no housing was built, and the association’s financial records show that in the last decade it has used more than $1.2 million of the lease income for general operations.

The organization’s treasurer, Philip Huang, said funds from the lease have not been spent for its operations since its current fiscal year began last October and would not be needed through the end of this fiscal year.

“We have been criticized but not given a chance to investigate,” Huang said in Chinese at the meeting, according to a translator.

the tally.jpg
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
A CCBA board member tallied votes.
Huang conceded the association had spent more than $1 million in lease income but promised that it could repay the money.

Rick Wong, the association’s president, said he would retain a lawyer to investigate allegations about the misuse of funds. The allegations were made by member Bill Moy in a petition addressed to Attorney General Martha Coakley, who oversees registered charities in the Commonwealth.

Some members of the association’s board — which includes representatives from 35 Chinatown business groups, social service providers, and traditional family associations — accused the leadership of not following its bylaws by rushing to a vote in the same meeting where the proposal was first presented and of having ulterior motives.

Huang said the board was acting quickly to approve the lease because of C-Mart's leaking roof and repairs needed in its parking lot, both of which the market owner has agreed to repair at his own expense under the new lease.

Two board members, Rosemary Yee and Chungchi Che, said the asset committee that reviewed lease proposals didn’t properly announce its meetings to the board so other members could attend.

Yee recommended a shorter lease term, perhaps for five years with two optional five-year extensions rather than the 10-year lease, with two five-year options presented.

Che asked Wong why there wasn’t a public solicitation of proposals for the property to bring in a larger number of bids.

Yee asked why the association was willing to accept a proposal that appeared to be below market value. C-Mart’s offer is equivalent to $19.60 per square foot, but documents obtained by the Globe show that a licensed appraiser said the building is worth $21.40 per square foot, and another real estate agent suggested $25 – $27 based on comparable properties.

Yee said on such a major issue, board members should have time to bring the proposal back to the organizations they represent before voting.

But Wong pressed forward, and board members voted 27 to 17 in favor of a new lease for the C-Mart. The lease will take effect after the current one expires in August 2013.

The starting rent will be $24,500 per month, increasing 1.5 percent for each of the first 10 years and 2 percent for each of the next 10 years, if both parties choose to exercise the lease’s two 5-year options.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
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counting votes.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Rick Wong, at left, watched as CCBA board members sorted ballots after Tuesday’s vote.

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