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BRA Pulls More Tricks To Get Urban Renewal Plan Extension

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about a state approval of the BRA’s request for an extension of its Urban Renewal Plans – here’s the reason: It would be illegal.

Multi-year extensions are classified as major modifications, which the state Department of Housing and Community Development cannot approve unless the City Council has approved. In 2005, the BRA tricked the Council into approving a double major modification: 10-year Plan extension together with a change in the process for future Council review -- to exclude extensions. DHCD’s ratification of that major modification ended the Council’s power over extensions.

This left the BRA in a trap: extension still requires state approval predicated on a Council vote -- but the Council could no longer vote. There was no lawful way, after 2005, to get a further extension.

In 2015, the BRA sought another extension, and tricked the Council into believing it could legally vote on it. The Council approved a 6-year extension – but the vote is invalid and cannot fulfill the prerequisite. The only lawful course of action is to let the Plans expire per the law.

But the BRA, experienced at making everything that is illegal, legal, is rummaging through its bag of dirty tricks for ways around its legal trap.

Internal emails show that the BRA has persuaded the DHCD’s Chief Legal Counsel, Roberta Rubin, new to the job, that if Plan goals and objectives stay the same, any extension is only a minor modification. That would make the invalid Council vote irrelevant, should someone challenge the state’s approval as an error of law.

DHCD staffer writes to DHCD Chief Counsel Roberta Rubin:

"… I think they [BRA] may be realigning the goals and objectives of each UR. If… they are modifying the goals or objectives of any plan … they should be asking for much more than just extension, but also modification…."

Rubin writes to BRA attorney Renee LeFevre:

“… it sounds as if BRA staff may be considering presenting a request for more than a simple extension, possibly including a major modification – wanted to make sure you were aware of that in light of our discussion the other day. Let me know if it would be helpful to strategize about the form and substance of a request.”

DHCD staffer writes to BRA Urban Renewal extension staff:

“I spoke with DHCD Chief Counsel [Rubin]. After consultation with your Counsel [Renee LeFevre], she believes this should be called a minor change unless any of the goals and objectives of the plans are going to be materially changed. Roberta suggests you talk to Renee if you have any questions.”

The position they are taking is in direct contradiction to regulations, policy and practice, as described in a pointed letter written to the BRA by then-DHCD Director Jane Gumble in 2005 – when the BRA tried the same ploy:

“The Urban Renewal Regulations, 760 CMR 12.03, define a major plan change as “A significant change in any of the basic elements of a previously approved urban renewal plan.” While the Department has granted numerous one-year extensions to Boston and other communities to allow for planning in advance of an anticipated long-term extension, in the Department’s view, a multi-year extension of an urban renewal plan qualifies as a major plan change because it extends the plan’s controls significantly beyond the anticipated date of expiration and makes it possible for additional substantial development activities which could not occur without the extension.

The Department notes that the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the City of Boston have treated urban renewal plan extensions as major plan changes in the past [by seeking City Council approval involving public hearings]. Public hearings and City Council approval are requirements only for major plan changes.”

Of course, if the BRA believed that the current extension is indeed a minor modification, it would not have spent a year engineering a City Council approval to submit to DHCD. Attorney Rubin seems unable to see the contradiction as Director Gumble did.

DHCD Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay is in these email loops. I have reached out to Ms. Kornegay, but she appears to have joined Rubin in the large club of officials the BRA has tricked into giving up oversight over its increasingly unfettered powers.

I believe that DHCD is ready to collaborate with the BRA; but a DHCD reclassification of extensions as minor would constitute a state power grab, virtually eliminating local control over powerful Urban Renewal agencies not only in Boston but across the state – a dangerous political step for the Governor. The BRA is now requesting a third 2-month extension of the Plans, playing for time to finagle this so it is applicable only to Boston. When that is done, DHCD will approve, and in the future, our Boston City Council will not even know when the state extends our UR Plans until the BRA sends them a little FYI.

Tell your City Councilors, the Mayor, the Governor, and your legislators: the BRA has played its last dirty trick; the Plans must end now. The BRA’s threats of doom and disaster should the Plans expire are false; the City already has all of the BRA’s powers and “tools,” and the BRA’s properties and legal agreements can simply be transferred to the City and handled by publicly accountable departments.

If you want to get rid of the Urban Renewal Plan in your neighborhood and join the 90% of Boston that functions under accountable rule of law, speak up now.

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