Wu fires chief of city’s landmarks panel

Rosanne Foley being administered the oath of office in 2015. Mayor's Office photo

Rosanne Foley being administered the oath of office in 2015

In letter, board members say Wu administration ‘disregards’ their oversight role on projects

In a communication addressed to Mayor Wu that is rife with potential consequences for development in Boston, including the controversial renovations proposal at White Stadium in Franklin Park for parttime use by a professional soccer team, members of a city commission charged with overseeing historic preservation in Boston took sharp issue with her administration’s approach to a number of controversial projects, including the stadium plan, and warned that the city’s “disregard” for state laws governing the commission threatens to undermine its work.

The remarkable show of dissent by all 16 current volunteer members of the mayorally-appointed Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) board was followed days later by the abrupt dismissal of the executive director of the panel, Rosanne Foley, a Dorchester woman who has led the group since 2015.

Foley, who was appointed to the post by former mayor Marty Walsh, was terminated last Friday, 12 days after the commissioners sent their letter.

Foley's dismissal came a week before her boss, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space, had been set to step down. In a move last week foreshadowing an administrative shakeup in the department, Wu announced that White-Hammond, a Dorchester resident, would leave office on April 26 and be replaced by Brian Swett, who had worked as Boston's climate chief from 2012 to 2015.

As to the BLC letter sent to the mayor, it was dated April 9, and signed by chairman Bradford Walker, vice-chairman Justine Orlando and 14 other members, including Dorchester residents Jeffrey Gonyeau and John Amodeo.

“The Commission was created to protect the City’s historic resources and advance recognition, understanding and enjoyment of those resources,” the three-page missive stated. “We, the undersigned Boston Landmark Commissioners, have observed in recent years a disregard by the City of Boston administration for the Commission’s legislative mandate and established procedures and guidelines.

“We are concerned that this disregard may impact the Commission’s ability to fulfill its legislatively defined objectives and could create a public impression that the Commission’s mandates and processes do not apply equally across all districts and properties.”

The letter points to six specific concerns but leads that section with the city’s efforts to re-purpose White Stadium for use by the professional soccer team franchise. The commissioners say they have been presented with half of the $80 million renovation project’s scope, the part proposed by Boston Unity Soccer Partners for the stadium’s west grandstand and note that the Wu administration has taken the view that the city’s renovations to the east grandstand are not within the “purview” of the BLC.

“The Commission’s enabling legislation and established regulations expressly requires Commission approval of all alterations to Boston Landmarks,” the members wrote, noting that all changes to Franklin Park, including White Stadium, need BLC approvals under state law. “The Commission is legislatively required to review the entirety of the proposed project and the Commission’s enabling legislation prevents ISD from issuing a permit for any project that is a Boston Landmark prior to approval by the Commission,” they asserted.

Two other specific cases, including the Hotel Buckminster in the Fenway and City Hall downtown, were also cited in the letter as instances of “interference” from the administration.

In the case of the Buckminster, the commissioners complained that a 2023 petition to designate the Kenmore Square property as a historic landmark was going through the normal review process until someone from the city administration “instructed Commission staff to pull the Hotel Buckminster’s designation from the Commission’s agenda on July 25, 2023.”

The letter said they were not given a reason for the instruction, but noted that the “public impression” was that the owner of the property - who has proposed to demolish most of it and redevelop it into a 215-foot lab building - had made the request.

“The City administration lacks the authority to pull any item from the Commission’s agenda or insert itself in the Landmark designation process,” the members maintain.

The issues with landmarking Boston City Hall also confronted administration “interference,” the letter asserted, with a study report that was crafted by the landmarks panel. The members indicated the administration had told them to extend the comment period for the study report, which they did out of deference to the administration.

However, things took a wrong turn when the report was headed for a vote, they said.

“After the extended period of public comment closed, members of the administration directed Landmarks staff to not place the item on an agenda, and to make changes to the report, and wrongly claimed that the process of drafting a study report for City Hall was flawed,” the panel group told the mayor in their letter.

“The process with respect to Boston City Hall should not have deviated from the Commission’s standard practice,” they noted.

Other cases cited include the redesign of the Arborway roadway, adherence to the Article 85 demolition delay legislation, and appointments to the Landmarks Commission itself.

The members closed their communication to the mayor with this comment: “We do not believe that historic or cultural priorities should take precedence over the City’s other priorities, just that historic and cultural resources should be considered in line with applicable law, including the Commission’s enabling legislation and Article 85.”

Wu’s office, asked for comment on the letter by the Reporter on Monday, said it is still reviewing the request.

Alison Frazee, director of the Boston Preservation Alliance (BPA), said her organization received the letter and included it in their weekly newsletter, noting it “very much supports the contents of that letter and the concerns of the Landmarks Commission.”

“I think we have had concerns with other administrations in the city that did not prioritize historic preservation,” she said. “We are really seeing here unprecedented actions of this administration trying to interfere with existing processes or avoid them altogether and that is troubling.

“We have a lot of concerns about White Stadium and making sure the Landmarks Commission process is followed and adhered to as legally required,” she said.

Foley, who previously headed-up the Fields Corner Main Street program, has worked on historic preservation issues in the city since the 1970s and has been a leading voice in Dorchester’s arts and culture community for many years. In her Landmarks Commission role, she directed the city’s review of permits to demolish or preserve properties in Boston. The commission is also charged with identifying and protecting historic districts and select properties deemed historic by its members. Although it is funded and housed at City Hall, its rules are governed by the state law that authorized its creation in 1975.

Commissioners who signed the letter were not aware of Foley’s firing until contacted by the Reporter on Monday.

The BLC‘s next scheduled meeting will be held virtually tomorrow night (Tues., April 23).

Reporter executive editor Bill Forry and associate editor Tom Mulvoy contributed to this report.


PDF icon BLC Commissioner letter to Mayor Wu108.26 KB

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