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Michlewitz moves to extend state support of Greenway, with strings attached

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  February 24, 2011 01:28 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)


State Representative Aaron Michelwitz wants to safeguard neighborhood residents’ voice in the Greenway Conservancy. Shown is one of the Greenway ramps that was to be covered by a museum devoted to Boston history. That project was abandoned in 2009.

State Representative Aaron Michlewitz has filed legislation that would extend state funding for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, require open meetings of the conservancy’s board of directors and give new powers to the Greenway Leadership Council.

Michlewitz’s bill, filed Jan. 20, would continue the state’s financial support of the Greenway Conservancy for five more years, until 2017, but would cap it at $4 million per year rather than the current $5.5 million cap. The actual amount the state pays would likely be less; for Fiscal 2011 it is $2.2 million.

It would give the right to review and vote on all contracts and on the conservancy’s annual budget to the leadership council — a group made up of residents from surrounding neighborhoods — but it would not allow the council to make amendments. Instead, a budget rejected by the council would return to the board for revision and resubmission.

The bill would also require the board to hold most meetings in public and maintain public records of all meetings, including those held behind closed doors due to privacy issues, as long as publication of those records wouldn’t defeat the purpose of the private session. A violation of that rule could lead to the state withholding funds from the conservancy.

Michlewitz said the bill wasn’t intended as a criticism of anyone at the conservancy but was about putting protections in place for the future and ensuring that area residents would always have a voice. He called it a “necessary next step” in moving the park forward and safeguarding the interests of its neighbors.

“The idea behind the legislation was, while these are state parks … they are still parks within surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. “To make these parks the best they can be, we should look upon it as a statewide park … but we should also be mindful of protecting the quality of life and making the parks as accessible and as attractive for the people [for whom] that is really their front doorstep.”

Ann M. Thornburg, chair of the Greenway Leadership Council and a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said council members appreciated Michlewitz’s efforts, but more work was necessary to get the bill right.

“Clearly, we appreciate the experience and interest that the representative has in the Greenway and his leadership and willingness to work with us to make the Greenway great,” Thornburg said. “We support the goals of transparency and responsiveness to our public, however, the legislation as filed needs more thought, and we look forward to working with Aaron to that end.”

Michlewitz said he’s looking forward to working with the conservancy, the leadership council, the city, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the residents of the surrounding neighborhood to ensure the bill creates the best possible situation for the Greenway. From here, the bill will be reviewed in a public hearing by the Joint Committee on Transportation, though a date has not been set.

The bill was filed shortly before the Greenway received its latest blow to plans for development, last week’s announcement by the YMCA that it would scrap plans to build a new facility just north of Haymarket Square. The YMCA was fourth institution to cancel a Greenway project due to the extra expense of building over ramps leading into the Central Artery tunnels.

Michlewitz, a lifelong North End resident, said he shared what he saw as universal disappointment among his neighbors about the YMCA’s decision. “When we were going through the dog days of the Big Dig, there were a few ideas out there that were keeping an understanding that we were going to have a light at the end of the tunnel … and one of those was having nonprofit entities being built along these ramp parcels, including the YMCA,” he said.

The state is required to cover the ramps whether the parcels are developed or not, and Michlewitz said he hoped it would be possible to build institutions on those sites that would be of benefit not just to the surrounding neighborhoods but to the city and the commonwealth as a whole. But he acknowledged that the issue of how to use the ramp parcels would be an ongoing one.

“As some people have said, I think air-rights projects are tough projects to do even in the best of times, and we’re obviously not at that point right now in our state’s economy,” he said. “Hopefully down the road we’ll be able to find something … that we can do on those ramp parcels.”

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.

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