Fight over Shawmut plan moves to panel’s makeup

Critics of the development proposal for 150 Centre St., the site of the Fitzpatrick Bros. auto body shop, have found a new battleground on which to wage war against the 74-unit project: an advisory panel focused on mitigation measures.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), which is reviewing the project, set up the advisory panel, known as an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) earlier this month. IAGs typically work with the BPDA and the development team on mitigation measures and community benefits from the project, as well as review a large-scale project’s potential impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Mitigation measures can range from a traffic study that leads to new stoplights and crosswalks, or money for local groups.

The real estate company Trinity Financial, led by Dorchester’s Jim Keefe, is proposing a 4-story building next to the Shawmut MBTA Station, with 39 parking spaces and 45 of the 74 units designated as affordable housing.

But the project, which started out at 91 units but shrunk as a neighborhood debate raged, has continued to draw criticism from some residents who say the project is too large for the area. Similar scenes have played out in neighborhoods across the city as projects have moved through the development pipeline and the region grapples with a housing crisis driven by a lack of supply and high demand.

Some of the 150 Centre St. critics last week signed onto a letter sent to the BPDA’s Arthur Jemison, who also serves as the city’s chief of planning. The missive, from three IAG members, questioned the IAG’s makeup and took aim at one member who has expressed support for the project.
An agency spokesperson said they were reviewing the letter.

Without naming them, the writers said they were concerned that some IAG members “have financial relationships with the developer, Trinity Financial and/or its affiliate, Trinity Management.”

Written by Andrew Saxe, Arlene Simon, and Domenic Accetta, the letter said they wanted members of the IAG to disclose any financial relationships with the developer. “Allowing such individuals on the IAG sets a dangerous precedent and inhibits the effort of this mayoral administration to make development process transparent, inclusive and, above all, trustworthy,” they asserted.

Trinity Financial, which declined to comment for this article, did not have a hand in picking the IAG. The members are appointed by the mayor, with nominations coming from city councillors, state representatives, and state senators, as well as recommendations from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.

The IAG for 150 Centre St. also has an appointee with ties to the abutting Epiphany School, which has clashed with Trinity over the project. School leaders sought to make a competing offer for the site last summer, but backed away after a legal threat from Trinity. The real estate company has had a purchase and sale agreement for the property since 2020.

In their 10-page letter, the critics found fault with the appointment of Nevin Lorden, a neighborhood resident, and took issue with some of his posts to Twitter, the social networking site.

The main one they pointed to was Lorden’s post on Jan. 5, after his IAG appointment: “Proud to say that I will be serving on the BPDA’s Impact Advisory Group for this project. Let’s get this sorely needed housing approved and built!”

The objectors said his advocacy is “not the primary concern…Rather, we object to his disdain for opposing views and his intolerance towards the many of the diverse populations of Dorchester and communities in the Commonwealth.”

They pointed to a late fall 2021 meeting of the St. Mark’s Area Civic Association, after which Lorden posted, “Members of my civic association came out in full force to express opposition,” and added, “Tonight’s meeting confirmed it. My neighborhood association is going to be my villain origin story.”

Another message, dated Jan. 2022, added: “I won’t even bother itemizing folks’ reasons for opposing this project because they consist of the typical NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) kitchen sink…Lastly, I would be remiss not to say, this is why we are in a housing crisis.”

Reached via email, Lorden pointed to the project’s location next to the Red Line’s Shawmut Station. “This transit-adjacent location makes it ideal for redevelopment into dense housing with a significant affordable component,” he said. “I have been vocal about my support for this project both at community meetings and online. We all have our opinions when it comes to development in our city and I believe that we all deserve to have our voices heard.”

He reiterated that the region is in a housing crisis. “Blocking construction of new housing only serves to exacerbate this crisis.”

Directly addressing some of the complaints about his online posts, he added, “While these tweets include tongue-in-cheek language, I do not have contempt for opposing viewpoints. All voices must be heard, including those which are pro-housing.”

Lorden said he works for a project management firm that is unaffiliated with 150 Centre Street, focusing primarily on nonprofits.

The letter writers argued for replacing Lorden with one of three women, a retired employee of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, an abutter, or a board member of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council. The critics said that through research they found that Lorden acquired a condominium in the area in April 2021. “He is new to this community,” the letter said.

In an email to the Reporter responding to that criticism, Lorden wrote, “I decided to make Dorchester my home less than two years ago and did so because I love what this community has to offer…I reject the notion that the amount of time a person has lived in this neighborhood should influence the weight their comments carry.”

The letter also criticized Twitter posts from Lorden, most of them from seven years ago, and included copies of them. They ranged from attempted jokes about the cities of Worcester and Springfield to posts with expletives, a typical occurrence on the social media platform.

“While I acknowledge the use of some colorful language in tweets from my college days, they simply do not rise to the level of necessitating my dismissal from a group that should be inclusive of all viewpoints for this project,” Lorden said in the email. “In the proceeding years, I have grown and matured and tweets from that period no longer represent my views.”

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