Mayor Michelle Wu’s ambitious plan to dissolve the Boston Planning and Development Agency faced early pushback Thursday from an unlikely source: the BPDA board itself.
At its monthly meeting Thursday night, the board voted to approve several items that will advance Wu’s effort to remake real estate development in Boston, including studies of development review and community engagement. But when it came to the final major item — an executive order “immediately implementing planning and development reforms” — the board balked.
“I’m not quite sure exactly what I’m voting for this evening,” said board member Brian Miller, who recently attended a BPDA all-staff meeting with Wu and described “a huge amount of uncertainty. ... It seemed to me that the changes are happening very quick.”
The proposal Wu asked the board to vote on Thursday outlines eight moves to reshape the city’s planning and development work, which has been a priority dating to her days on the City Council. Among them: instructing the BPDA to “execute strategies to proactively evaluate and modernize Boston’s zoning code” and “create new tools to measure what and how development is delivering for Bostonians.”
It is also tied to her plan to make the 200-plus employees of the BPDA and its sister the Economic Development Industrial Corp. employees of the city, instead of the quasi-governmental agencies themselves, and ultimately dissolve the legal entities behind those agencies, creating a newly reformed BPDA. (Staff this week were notified that “no one is losing employment as a result of this transition.”)
But board members said they wanted far more detail about the complex plan, including its impact on the agency’s staff.
“We have a request to accept immediate changes without clarification as to what those immediate changes are,” said longtime board member Ted Landsmark. “It appears that we put the cart before the horse, by asking us to engage in planning towards reform without having the evidence and the data that indicates specifically what the reforms are.”
After that, BPDA Director Arthur Jemison suggested tabling the vote to a later date to give the board an opportunity to more fully discuss the proposed changes, to which all four members agreed.
Tabling the matter, as opposed to a “no” vote, means the plan will likely be back before the board in a month or two. But even that sort of delay is a rare move for the appointed group that typically approves every item — both administrative matters and development projects — that’s put before it.
A Wu spokesman had no immediate comment Friday morning.
The discussion also highlights the sheer complexity of the structural changes Wu is trying to enact at the BPDA, which she says are key to reforming the city’s approach to large-scale real estate development and its impact on neighborhoods and residents. The board members — who were appointed by her predecessors and serve multi-year terms — Thursday night didn’t express outright opposition to the plan. But they still have questions.
“There’s more conversation to be had,” said board chair Priscilla Rojas.