Boston Globe by Milton Valencia
East Boston, with its picturesque views of the harbor and downtown skyline, diverse restaurants, and historic landmarks, has emerged as one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods for real estate — second only, perhaps, to South Boston’s Seaport District.
Only, don’t let Eastie turn into the Seaport District.
So say community leaders who have called for a temporary halt to development in East Boston — at least until some sort of community master plan can be put in place. They say they fear a disjointed building spree will turn their neighborhood enclave into another overdeveloped, mismatched expanse of gentrification — like what has happened across the harbor.
They point to South Boston’s Seaport District as an example of the disorganization they want to avoid: a new neighborhood made up of higher-income earners, with no fire station, school, or community center. Only recently has it gotten a CVS Pharmacy. Some architects call the district an urban designer’s nightmare.
“The identity gets sucked out of [the neighborhood],” said John Walkey, an Eastie resident and environmental justice advocate with GreenRoots Inc.
“We’ve gotten a little bit to a tipping point,” he said. “There’s just a sense that this development is going on without a plan.”
Even counterparts from South Boston have raised an alarm, telling East Boston locals not to repeat the mistakes of the Seaport District.
“We’re at the point of oversaturation,” City Councilor Michael Flaherty, a longtime public official from South Boston, told residents recently at a council hearing in East Boston. “There’s only so much you can stuff into one neighborhood.”
East Boston’s population grew 17 percent from 2000 to 2015, outpacing the 10 percent growth seen citywide, according to city officials. By 2015, a majority of the 17,000 households, or 70 percent, were renters, and two-thirds of the homeowners were considered low- to moderate-income families by city standards.
In upcoming years, the number of residents is expected to spike with the planned revitalization of the former Suffolk Downs racetrack, which could add another 10,000 units of housing. While some of that land is in Revere, the total number of units would make up nearly a fifth of the 53,000 new units Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh wants to see built by 2030 to meet the anticipated citywide growth.
(Walsh also has hopes the area will house Amazon’s so-called second headquarters — a bid that, if the city wins, could bring more than 50,000 jobs — and more residents)
Residents say they do not oppose what they call responsible development, but historic buildings near Maverick Square have been demolished for standard-design condominium units, three-deckers have been demolished to make way for seven-unit dwellings, and trees in backyards are being dug up so that more housing units can be built.
In the meantime, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Blue Line, which connects East Boston to downtown, is deluged during the morning and evening commutes.
During heavy storms, parts of East Boston are under water, and while some newer buildings have been built to be resilient to storm waters, many older buildings are prone to flooding.
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