[Editor's note: The following is a press release from neighborhood advocates, some of whom serve on the JP Neighborhood Council. It is not an official position of the JP Neighborhood Council, however, as the original post wrongly indicated. JP Patch is getting in touch with developers to get their side and will post more information when available. It is not against the law to make such contributions. Also, a sentence incorrectly characterizing City Council Matt O'Malley's district has been removed.]
Residents in Jamaica Plain reacted with outrage at news that the developers of two large luxury housing projects slated for South Huntington Avenue, each of which has encountered overwhelming opposition from the community, went on spending sprees to the campaigns of elected officials with influence over the development process. “How can the community trust that this is a fair process if there’s an appearance that money may be influencing development decisions that will impact everyone’s lives? This is a real problem,” commented Benjamin Day, a resident near the development.
According to the latest reports from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF), the developers of each project made initial rounds of donations targeted at City Councilors and State Representatives in whose districts the developments would take place. After running into widespread community opposition and setbacks in the regulatory process, the developers’ attorneys and consultants made large “bundled” campaign donations to Mayor Menino’s campaign committee.
After Cedar Valley Development submitted a proposal to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to construct a ten-story tall, 195-unit luxury housing development at 105A South Huntington Avenue, OCPF reports show that Cedar Valley’s three principals, including Michael Nader of Marshfield, Assad Nader of Foxborough, and Anthony Nader of Milton, made "bundled" donations of $2,000 to City Councilor Michael Ross, $1,500 to Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, $900 to City Councilor Felix Arroyo, and $250 to City Councilor John Connolly ($500 per year is the maximum donation permitted under state law).
When the Cedar Valley proposal encountered strong opposition from the community and became stalled at the BRA, the project’s Attorney, Matthew Kiefer of Goulston & Storrs, and eleven others employed by that firm collectively made donations of $3,550 to Mayor Menino’s committee. Executives at two of the consultant firms engaged by Cedar Valley added another $1,000. A final decision by the BRA was pending at the time of the donations.
At 161 South Huntington Avenue, Boston Residential Group has proposed to demolish the century-old Home for Little Wanderers building in order to construct a 196-unit luxury housing complex, consisting primarily of studio and 1 bedroom units that would rent for $2,000 per month and up.
The law firm hired by Boston Residential to facilitate its applications with the city, Nixon Peabody, owns a Political Action Committee that earlier this year made $150 and $200 donations to City Councilor Matthew O’Malley and State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, respectively.
After the Impact Advisory Group of local residents, established under zoning law to review Boston Residential’s plan, voted unanimously to oppose the development, and two public hearings organized by the BRA drew overwhelming community opposition, the BRA Board removed the development from its September meeting agenda, where it was initially scheduled to receive a vote. Two weeks later the project’s attorney, Lawrence Dicara, along with twenty-six other attorneys at Nixon Peabody, made a $6,050 “bundled” donation to Mayor Menino’s campaign committee. The Nixon Peabody bundle was accompanied by donations from Boston Residential’s President, Curtis Kemeny ($500) and other contractors for the project, for a total of $7,300 in donations. At its next meeting following these donations, on October 18, the BRA Board voted unanimously to approve the project.
The developments border on the Latin Quarter of Jamaica Plain. “People from a low to moderate income community cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in political contributions,” commented Martha Rodriguez of Hyde Square. “Why is a project like this still rapidly moving forward despite so much community opposition?” Ara Reyes reacted with shock, “I’ve lived in Jamaica Plain my whole life, and it is getting harder and harder for the community to afford to live here with rising rents. I can’t believe the developers donated this much money while their projects were up for review.”
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