Lit Drop | Development reform surfaces in special elections, too

John Moran said he officially made it onto the ballot for the special election to replace former state Rep. Jon Santiago. (Image via Moran campaign)

Boston’s 2021 mayoral race at varying points turned on the region’s housing crisis and development boom, with the winner, Michelle Wu, promising to abolish the city’s planning and development entity, known as both the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and after a 2016 rebrand, the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

On the campaign trail, Wu echoed her original call to toss out a “complicated system that only the most privileged and powerful can navigate.” As she now sits in the mayor’s chair, her plan remains in motion, with legislation pending on Beacon Hill to remake the agency and her chief of planning, Arthur Jemison, pursuing reforms from his office on City Hall’s ninth floor.

But development remains a hot topic in the neighborhoods, and one candidate in the upcoming 9th Suffolk House special election is highlighting it as he runs to replace former state Rep. Jon Santiago, who was recently sworn in as Gov. Maura Healey’s veterans’ affairs secretary. The district stretches from Copley Square and the South End down to Dorchester’s Columbia Road.

The South End’s John Moran and Amparo “Chary” Ortiz are among the candidates. The Democratic primary is May 2, and the general election is May 30.

Moran, a Democrat and business consultant, notes that he moved to the South End 24 years ago when he and his partner were able to buy a small condo. “I want other people to have that opportunity, particularly people of color to have that opportunity,” he said, adding, “I share the view of a lot of Bostonians that we need more housing of all types.”

He also is calling for reforms to the development process, singling out the part of the process that remains outside of public view. “Lots of conversations go on way before any citizen gets any inkling of what’s going on,” he said.

Moran backs a “planning first” approach. “That means planning out Lower Roxbury, what do we want to see there, and make it easier for developers to build what we’ve said is allowable, rather than a parcel-by-parcel fight.”

Like a number of Bostonians, he is familiar with parcel-by-parcel fights. He worked three years ago to oppose a proposal for a four-story building at 115 Worcester Street, with 55 residential condo units. One of the proponents, LIHC Investment Group, owns two existing buildings at the rear of the property where they provide 181 units of low and middle-income rental housing. While having mainly market rate condos, the new building would have also added to the affordable housing numbers.

Moran said he supports the need for more housing, but that project didn’t match a neighborhood of historic rowhouses. “It was ridiculous,” he said. “It was totally out of scale for the neighborhood.”

He spoke to Wu, then a councillor, about the proposal, and she convened a City Hall meeting with neighborhood residents and the developer. There hasn’t been action on the project for a year and a half, according to Moran.

Now, he is focused on a tight timeline as the May 2 election approaches. District 7 Councillor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who represents Roxbury and part of Dorchester, has endorsed him. (He hasn’t asked Wu for an endorsement yet but spoke with her about his candidacy, he said.)

“I’ve been wearing out shoe leather making sure I knock on every door I can,” Moran said. “We’re doing thousands of doors a week to talk to voters. That’s ultimately the only strategy that’s going to win.”

Council backs liquor license hike

The City Council unanimously signed off on a home rule petition allowing additional liquor licenses within Boston’s borders. District 4 Councillor Brian Worrell was the lead sponsor of the petition, which heads to the mayor’s desk.

After her expected signature, the petition will require additional approvals from state lawmakers and the governor to become law.

The petition allows the city’s licensing board to grant up to three liquor licenses and two malt/wine licenses to specific neighborhoods by ZIP code, including ones covering Dorchester and Mattapan: 02121, 02124, and 02126.

Advocates say neighborhood restaurants need the licenses to better compete, and existing licenses are not equitably distributed throughout the city. For example, Mattapan only has 10 out of the existing 1,432 licenses in Boston.

“This vote is a major step forward toward bridging the equity gap for small business owners in Boston,” Worrell said in a statement.

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