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BOSTON-City officials have been negotiating with four developers about a major project in the Fort Point Channel area, angering activists who claim neighbors are being allowed no input into a development process that will impact the surrounding neighborhoods. Negotiations with the Gillette Co., Beacon Capital Partners LLC, Boston Wharf Co., and the US Postal Services also violates a promise the city made to abide by consistent zoning practices that allow public input into the process, the activists say.

“This is not about NIMBYism or obstructionism,” Shirley Kressel, a community activist and urban planner, tells GlobeSt.com. “This is about private zoning. They arrange a project, negotiate it, and the community doesn’t have any input. It’s just a total disregard for what the community has to say.”

City officials, which call the negotiations “working meetings,” have said that by talking privately with developers they can achieve better concessions such as improved parks and roads for the community in exchange for allowing developers to build bigger buildings. Kairos Shen, director of planning for the Fort Point Channel Boston Redevelopment Authority, says recently negotiated agreements with landowners in the area have provided more public benefits than under regular zoning. Among the concessions gleaned from developers, Shen said, is several acres of parkland along with millions of dollars in street improvements and $1 million in funding to maintain public open space. In exchange for those concessions, developers will be allowed to build 6 million sf instead of the 8 million they had planned. The city also obtained commitments from Gillette and the US Postal Service that will keep them, and thousands of jobs, in Boston.

Kressel, however, says the private negotiations are subverting the zoning process and creating an uncertain environment for investors, developers and residents in the surrounding neighborhood. “It’s not a level playing field so developers are unsure whether to come in and people who own aren’t sure what will pop up next to their properties,” she says, adding that other city neighborhoods are facing similar problems. “All over, huge vast portions of the city are being turned into self-zoning districts so there is no zoning at all,” she notes, adding that she is planning to start a citywide petition drive that would require the BRA to drop Planned Development Areas from its zoning process.

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