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Developer's check briefly takes center stage at 10th Suffolk forum

MacGregor, Orthman, Segel

MacGregor, Orthman, Segel.

A generally genial online forum for the three candidates running for the state representative's seat that Ed Coppinger quit briefly turned tense last night over the West Roxbury hot-button of the fenced off field of dirt at Centre and Park streets.

Robert Orthman of Roslindale was discussing his housing policy, in which he calls for making it easier to build apartment and condo buildings near transit lines and stations, when he said he had his limits - he wouldn't say yes to anything and certainly wouldn't take money from developers looking to do something "unscrupulous or questionable." Like, say, the developer who tore down two buildings at Centre and Park even before the city approved his plans to put up a proposed 21-unit condo building at the site.

"I haven't taken any donations from the developer in that building and Bill has," he said, referring to candidate William MacGregor of West Roxbury, who had said he also opposed the project.

"That's a lie!" MacGregor retorted.

"Gary Martell," Orthman replied.

MacGregor said the developer is CAD Builders, not Martell, and he had taken no money from CAD Builders.

After somebody wrote in the forum chat that Martell was the public front man for CAD Builders at hearings on the project - in fact, he is the owner - MacGregor acknowledged that, yes, Martell is the developer behind the Centre Street project, but that he still opposes the project and that he has told Martell that.

"It's nice of him to donate even though I opposed his project," he said, adding Martell must have done so because "he knows I'm fair."

The issue was particularly sensitive last night because the forum was organized by the Highland Neighborhood Civic Association, which residents of the area around Centre and Park re-started a couple years ago specifically to fight Martell's plans to replace a 19th-century house and a former bank branch with condos.

Later, the moderator followed up with a question on how MacGregor could take money from Martell when the neighborhood is solidly opposed to the project.

"Gary knows I've opposed this project," MacGregor said. "I think he knows I'm working in the best interests [of the neighborhood]. " He said that in his tenure as chief of staff for City Councilor Matt O'Malley, Martell and other developers came to "know that I am a hard worker and they've worked with me in the past and they know I'm fair." Martell still gave him money even though "I almost never support anything of Gary's."

Most of the forum was about other issues, including housing in general:

Housing

All three candidates - MacGregor, Orthman and Celia Segel of Jamaica Plain - said something needs to be done to increase the supply of affordable housing - and that they doubted their children could afford to live in the district if nothing is done.

MacGregor called for looking at ways of creating a new stock of "starter homes," including making it easier for builders to put single-family homes on the many small lots in the district that no longer meet the current 6,000-square-foot minimum zoning requirements. He would also look to increase state funds to help first-time homeowners pay their down payments.

Orthman said he would emphasize apartment and condo buildings, in particular near transit lines and stops - but said he would not favor apartment buildings on the district's smaller side streets. "Multi-family housing is something that is very crucial," because it costs less per unit and so is more affordable, he said, pointing to his lobbying work to convince Mayor Wu to replace zoning-board members who had opposed a proposed apartment building in Roslindale Square. Once that project went before the newly constituted board, it won approval.

Segel called for more incentives for developers to build homes that more people could afford, including housing for seniors. She also said she would take a look at the state's Chapter 40B law, which eases regulatory burdens for developers in exchange for affordable housing. The law doesn't apply in Boston, because the city has already met the state minimum for affordable units, but could be better used to build affordable housing elsewhere, she said.

Public transportation

All three say Boston needs a seat on the MBTA board of directors.

Segel said more accountability and transparency is a must. She pointed to "a long list" of urgently needed repairs at stations, for example, JFK/UMass and along the Southwest Corridor.

Orthman said fixing the T is one of the biggest reasons he decided to run for the seat. He said he was active in the effort to get dedicated rush-hour bus lanes along Washington Street in Roslindale. He called for reducing the commuter-rail fares from West Roxbury and Roslindale to that of a subway ride. And he said the state needs to remove Big Dig debt from the T's books. "The T is just absolutely drowning in debt service."

MacGregor said he worked with then councilors O'Malley, Wu and McCarthy to get fares lowered from local commuter-rail stops and supports an effort by state Sen. Lydia Edwards and state Rep. Adrian Madaro for reduced fares for low-income riders. He would also improve service on the Ride. He added that the Carmen's Union endorsed him shortly before the forum started.

Environment

MacGregor said he would continue O'Malley's work fighting for environmental causes, such as doing something about all the natural-gas leaks from mains that contribute to global warming and kill nearby trees. He said he would look at measures such as covering MBTA parking lots with solar-panel canopies and supports the T's switch from diesel to electric buses.

Segel said Massachusetts needs to move more aggressively towards power from renewable resources. She said her wife is from the Midwest and that on trips there, she always marvels at how many windmills there are now. There's nothing like that here, but we have a long coastline off which we should be building wind turbines, she said. She added that she would also push to make the state's utilities beef up their electrical grids to support the extra demand that will come as more and more buildings and vehicles are electrified.

Orthman called for electrification of commuter rail, to increase reliability, to reduce carbon emissions in general and the amount of diesel fumes and particulates locomotives now spew in the neighborhoods they pass through. He said he would make it easier for communities to require new buildings to be all electric from the start.

Centre Street in West Roxbury

MacGregor called for several steps to make the road safer, including more flashing pedestrian-crossing signs and other signage to get drivers to slow down. He also called for planting more trees, which he said would reduce the glare that can blind drivers to pedestrians.

Orthman called for a "road diet" to reduce the number of lanes along the road as a safety measure. He said the current four-lane set up is simply unsafe, and says he knows somebody who was almost killed while walking across the road in a crosswalk - the driver nearest him stopped, he began walking, then a driver in the other lane slammed into him, Orthman said.

Segel did not discuss Centre Street.

Education

All three have young children and support increasing access to early education - and to making childcare more affordable.

Segel said there's a particular need to address the "mental health crisis" among students, in particular among teen girls.

MacGregor said he hopes his children can attend public schools but that he is concerned that BPS enrollment keeps dropping even as BPS spending keeps increasing. Pointing to mass shootings at schools in other states, he said we need to do more to keep schools safe - and to provide adequate mental-health resources to students. He called for printing the number of a national suicide prevention line on all BPS student IDs.

Orthman said the state needs to rely less on standardized testing to gauge student progress, especially now, in the years after students suffered "pandemic learning losses." He said he would also work to figure out ways to provide college education that would let students graduate without having "sword of Damocles debt" hanging over them when they graduate.

Greater transparency and accountability in the legislature

All three candidates support it.

The three are competing in the May 2 Democratic primary to replace Coppinger. Whoever wins will likely become the next state rep because there are no Republican or independent candidates on the ballot.

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Comments

Gary always gives himself away, he passes money around under the different projects or company names but then just can't help himself, he reveals his ties in every meeting he attends.
He tore down those houses because he just assumed he would get approval. In the meantime people can't stand looking at the dirt pile, so they are more likely to push for some project.

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The mailers I've been getting look like they're all written by the same person. We all need housing and schools and senior services. This forum showed some real differences in policy and in priorities. I've been impressed by Robert Orthman's approach to transportation and his emphasis on fixing the T and making it more affordable for these neighborhoods. And I agree 100% with what he said about Centre St. With about a week and a half to go, that's how I see my vote going.

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Thanks for making my decision easy by competing for NIMBY points boys.

We need more housing... eXCePt iN weSt rOXbuRy!!!1

Orthman may have the right position on Centre St. but it doesn't matter because that's not a state issue and he'll never have to take a stand on it. It's up to Mayor Wu to fix Centre St.

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I find Orthman's comments to be ironic, because Orthman publicly SUPPORTED this project in front of the BPDA on March 31, 2021:

Robert Orthman
Support
"I support this proposal. I grew up in West Roxbury and live down the road from Centre Street now in Roslindale. The two properties in question are both vacant and not in good condition. I don't think they provide much value to the business district or community. I frequent Centre Street and find this section empty-feeling and inhospitable due to these dead properties so their replacement is welcome to me. This project would bring more customers to the local businesses and provide more housing options in the community - both needed things in West Roxbury. It strikes me as entirely appropriate for this site. I would like to see similar buildings along Centre Street in West Roxbury, particularly above existing businesses where the buildings can support the additions. That is how you make a business district thrive and full of energy, something Centre Street in West Roxbury really needs. For all those reasons, I support the project. Thank you for your consideration."

https://m.box.com/shared_item/https%3A%2F%2Fbpda.box.com%2Fs%2Fd2k635poo...

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Thanks for pointing that out. Ironic at best.

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He never said he didn’t approve of the project. He disapproved of the developer’s actions in doing the demo before receiving approvals for the plans and pivoted to attacking MacGregor and catching him in a lie there. As someone who’s a fan of Orthman’s policy ideas and activism in Rozzie, it’s a bit underhanded and disappointing of a tactic, and I would’ve appreciated it more if he was upfront about his support of the project, but dislike of the developer’s tactics.

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I watched the forum and that's basically what he said. The question before MacGregor said unprompted that he was proud to have opposed that project and was disappointed it went through, clearly trying to curry favor with the group. So Orthman discussed his overall pro-housing approach which he is pretty clear about then said that doesn't mean he's a rubber stamp when a developer acts badly (my paraphrasing). He ended by saying MacGregor took a big donation from Martell even though he just said right before he opposed the project. That was the context and it was pretty straightforward. MacGregor blew it up by calling Orthman a liar and denying the donation but it wasn't a lie which he then admitted.

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Phew! Glad to see these candidates will continue West Roxbury’s long standing tradition of only allowing banks and vacant storefronts on Centre St and not anything really productive or valuable to the stale neighborhood. Enjoy!

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But, it’s frustrating to see them have to court the NIMBY vote. Tearing down that bank and collapsing house for housing is the right call. Yes, we should allow apartments on side streets. It’s okay, good even, to have multifamily housing away from loud, polluted arterials. No, Boston does not need more single family homes because with the price of land and construction costs, a SFH will not price out as a starter home this close to the core in the foreseeable future, if ever again. New homes in the 50s were less than 1000 sqft. Even in the 70s, they were around 1500 sqft. If the starter homes are gonna be that size anyway, might as well stack them up into a triple decker, or even a 4-plex or 6-plex.

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There's been no substantive coverage of this race... thanks for this write up.

My gut, the subtle copaganda on his website, his vague policy, and the widespread support seen on the front lawns HOMEOWNERS in West Roxbury (usually paired with thin-blue-line merch) told me that MaccyG was not the man for me. But this right here proves it.

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I also like to keep an eye out for signs on vacant lots and poorly maintained rental properties so I can avoid the candidates who are pulling support from real estate speculator and slumlord types.

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I know almost nothing about anybody in this race, but the house down the street that used to have like 10 "Trump 2020: Make liberals cry again" flags out front now has a sign for MacGregor. I'll pass.

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All three candidates support it.

Candidates do. State representatives don't. It's the old, "I was for it, before I was against it.

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I wonder what happened with the builder’s lawsuit to proceed with the project. Personally, I’m getting kind of tired of the HigHLy hIsTorIc laNDmarK dirt patch, though that’s still better than the run down empty buildings that were there before.

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He sued the BPDA in December because it had yet to vote on the project (you might recall the BPDA did the same thing with another project much hated in West Roxbury - the proposed charter high school on Belgrade Avenue, the school eventually gave up and found a site well away from West Roxbury/Roslindale).

Martell, or rather, C.A.D. Builders says time's up: By failing to act, the BPDA lost any oversight over the project and so he's asking a judge to order ISD to issue the permit he needs to begin construction - oh, and ISD messed up by reversing its initial decision the project needed no zoning-board of approval.

I just checked the docket and pretty much nothing has happened with the case since then. Martell filed an amended complaint last month that adds several specific city officials to the suit, in addition to the more generic BPDA and ISD, but the basic claims are still the same and the city has yet to file a reply.

The court calendar for the case says we can expect a ruling in 2025.

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We can dig all we want on campaign money and clutch our pearls accordingly, but another story is the unpaid links.

Mr. O is an established member of Walk-Up Roslindale, and their advocacy work toward a more-pedestrian-friendly environment is on record, so a call for a road diet is a no-brainer coming from that campaign. The real story is that Walk-Up now embeds itself in the BPDA's Impact Advisory Groups (IAG) for new projects up front, so as to impose their agenda well-before the rest of the public can see it or weigh in.

Highly clever.

That way the agenda is not shouted down by the opposition because... well... most people will not know that the citizen advisory group is a stacked deck. It looks like this is what is coming straight from the Architect's drawing board, when in fact the IAG has had a few shots at it already.

People need to start connecting the dots. The public is 2nd class here and the fix is in.

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Excerpts from BPDA’s site:

What if I am not on the IAG?
The IAG process does not restrict residents or local organizations from submitting comments during periods designated in the Article 80 process of development review. Community meetings and comments will still play the major role in any development review process.

Does the IAG replace the established community voices?
The IAG does not replace or limit other community organizations. Every development project will continue to undergo the same thorough public review process. For instance, the BPDA will continue to require every developer to hold publicly advertised meetings for feedback from local residents. Every neighborhood or community organization will still have the option to comment officially on a project during the required comment periods. Many projects will require public hearings before the BPDA Board as well as other boards or commissions. IAGs represent a cross-section of individuals to provide greater public insight to the BPDA in weighing mitigation.

Still lots of opportunities for the public to speak up, just in a separate part of the process!

Also, if you want to sit on an IAG, make your case to a City Councilor, your State Representative, your State Senator, or the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. All you have to be is a resident, business owner, or community org representative within an impact area.

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you can now self-nominate to be included in an Art. 80 IAG when the Notice of Intent is filed.. This seems to be new, I've just noticed it lately.

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Residents engaging in a public process open to anyone interested isn’t exactly the conspiracy you think it is.

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If it was one of these lousy nimby orgs filled with crotchety Westie Whites that bands together to keep the Centre speedway death trap, block schools and housing — I’d object to them on the IAG. But Walk-Up? More power to them.

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leave it to the private sector to solve .

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