By Seth Daniel
Urban Renewal has a very negative association based on the sins of the distant past, but planners in Everett hope to show that just such an urban renewal plan could be a great tool to use for the redevelopment of Everett Square and the Commercial Triangle.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria unveiled the plan for Everett Square at his Inaugural Address on Tuesday, Jan. 3. That has been followed up by an announcement of a public meeting with the City and the new Urban Renewal Plan consultant, BSC Group, on Jan. 24.
“We are pleased to be working with the BSC Group on an urban renewal plan targeting blighted and abandoned properties in the heart of our city,” he said. “This plan emerges from the Everett Square Master Plan that was completed last year. And we will implement many of those recommendations. My goal is a revitalized Everett Square where you will no longer see vacant, blighted or abandoned properties, but instead a vibrant, inviting downtown area where people live, work, shop, and enjoy any number of top-shelf urban amenities.”
Planner Tony Sousa said this week that the Urban Renewal Plans (URP) are not new to the City, citing the Lower Broadway URP that was approved in 2015.
He said the first thing to clarify is that in any of the upcoming proposed URPs, they would not be identifying or targeting residential properties – putting the idea of a West End Boston style of Urban Renewal wipeout of homes.
“We would support residential redevelopment, but certain we’re not targeting or even highlighting residential properties in the report,” he said. “It’s the industrial, vacant, blighted and Brownfield properties we want to focus on…Urban Renewal has that connotation from the past. It is very different thing than what it was and has many safeguards to make sure what happened in the 1950s and 1960s doesn’t happen again today. It’s much more of a collaborative process and not just the heavy hand of urban renewal.”
The Everett Square process will begin in earnest on Jan. 24, building on the Utile Re-Imagining Everett Square study from last year. After public input, the plan created by BSC Group and City Planners will be presented to the Everett Redevelopment Authority (ERA). Then it will go to the Planning Board, the City Council and the mayor.
At the state level, the plan will have to get approval of the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and other applicable state agencies.
“We’ll identify certain areas, neighborhoods, sections and properties that are deemed blighted by the federal definition,” Sousa said. “We’ll highlight them and highlight options…I call this plan a tool…It’s kind of doing what we did in Lower Broadway and applying it to Everett Square.”
Sousa said they believe URPs are a way to make things happen, not necessarily by always having to utilize eminent domain land takings. He said it sends a message that the City has clear goals for the properties and the area, including its own property.
“We’ll look at commercial and industrial and municipal properties in the plan,” he said. “Municipal properties like parking lots and other things are key. We can control our own destiny with our own property, so they do become important to the plan.”
Sousa said beyond the Commercial Triangle (which is to the south of the Parkway), the City has no immediate plans to create more URPs, but they do like the process and would likely look at more in the future.