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Alliance: Neighborhood Groups 'Know How to Fight'

Would-be developers face neighborhood-level challenges before they can even deal with the city.

Opening a new business in Boston can be a challenge. Not only do would-be business owners have to deal with state and city codes, requirements and laws, but—before they do so—they have to garner the favor of a sometimes-complex maze of neighborhood groups.

Take the case of Rob Rivard. Rivard decided that he wanted to open a new in Charlestown and brought his case to a hearing of a subcommittee of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council. Residents at the meeting to the project. A few days later, the council voted and to communicate that non-support to relevant city agencies.

That recommendation doesn’t carry any official weight, but it will complicate the project’s future, according to Nick Downing a researcher at the Future Boston Alliance.

Maria Lazu, the director of the alliance, acknowledged that it’s important for residents to have a say in what happens in their neighborhood, but questioned whether neighborhood associations are as representative as they claim to be. Newer and younger residents may not know how to use the groups as well as residents who have been in the neighborhood for decades or generations, she said.

Different neighborhoods present different challenges

And she said some neighborhoods are more complicated than others.

In Charlestown, all new businesses have to make their way through the Charlestown Neighborhood Council. That has one set of problems, Lazu said—a single body can kill your project—but the South End presents a different challenge. The neighborhood has so many associations, Lazu noted, that some of them cover areas the size of a single block.

The alliance claims that Boston today is “less than the sum of its parts,” and points to complications like this as one of the reasons for that.

“If you don’t have that support,” Downing said, “you’re going to run into problems later on.”

Members of the business community—and sometimes the councils themselves—often point out that these councils hold no official power.

“[But] they know how to fight,” Downing said.

Working around neighborhood opposition

While failure to get local support can endanger your project, consultant Jack Kelly said it doesn’t necessarily have to kill it.

“Although the neighborhood group or association is important and impactful,” Kelly said, “developers or residents can also pursue an independent strategy.”

Would-be developers, Kelly said, can work around local opposition by working with the mayor’s neighborhood liaison (a position Kelly once held in Charlestown), the neighborhood’s city councilor or the four at-large members of the city council.

The key to overriding local opposition, Kelly said, is to convince councilors that local groups oppose the project on flawed grounds or that the project has support beyond the neighborhood’s borders.

“This would require some work gathering signatures and organizing residents to show up in person and speak at the scheduled hearing at City Hall,” Kelly said.

How many councils do businesses have to deal with in your neighborhood?

South End

  • Bay Village
  • Blackstone/Franklin Square
  • Bradford Street Organization
  • Chester Square
  • Claremont Neighborhood Association
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Eight Streets
  • Ellis
  • Friends of Ringgold Park
  • Hurley Blocks
  • Old Dover
  • Pilot Block
  • Rutland Square
  • Rutland Street
  • St. Botolph
  • Union Park
  • Worcester Square Area

Charlestown

  • Charlestown Neighborhood Council

Back Bay

  • Neighborhood Association of Back Bay

Jamaica Plain

  • Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Association
  • Jamaica Pond Association
  • Stonybrook Neighbors Association
  • Centre/South Main Streets
  • Egleston Square Main Street
  • Hyde/Jackson Main Streets

West Roxbury

  • West Roxbury Neighborhood Council
  • West Roxbury Civic & Improvement Association
  • Charles River/Spring Valley Neighborhood Association
  • Bellevue Hill Improvement Association

Beacon Hill

  • Beacon Hill Civic Association

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