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Residents: South Huntington Developers Made Big Political Donations

Neighborhood advocates are pointing out that the developers behind large apartment complexes for 161 and 105A S. Huntington Ave. made bundled contributions to local politicians as the projects are moving through the approval process.

[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.”

Bob from JP November 02, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Rich - the fact is there is a very large overlap in those opposed to Whole Foods and those opposed to this. You may not be one, but that does not change the points made in the editorial, which I believe to be, for the most part, valid. The parallels between the two issues are quite clear.
Pat Roberts November 02, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Ara, thanks for sharing. Why do you want to prevent the construction of more housing in JP? It's been said many times that there is no money right now for more subsidized housing. Building more market-rate housing will increase the supply of places to live, and has the potential of bringing down the cost. Preventing the construction of more housing will definitely increase the cost of what's here. Couldn't others share the good things you find about living here?
Maura November 02, 2012 at 04:37 PM
This editorial in the Gazette http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2012/11/01/editorial-jpnc-chair-should-resign/ has some very logical and balanced things to say about political donations. Give it a read.
Pat Roberts November 02, 2012 at 05:55 PM
The Gazette's comments about political donations are marred by its pretense that the JP neighborhood council has any integrity or honesty. The Gazette says "the council must immediately restore its sense of integrity..." What integrity would that be? And it says the duties of the neighborhood council chair include "providing a neutral forum and preserving the council's hard-earned influence..." The neutral forum, we all know, is something the neighborhood council is pledged never to allow. The hard-earned influence...does the Gazette mean that the neighborhood council is the laughingstock of JP and also of Boston? I didn't realize they worked so hard to achieve that reputation, or that they valued it so much. Maybe the Gazette thinks we don't remember the negative role the neighborhood council played in the conversations about Whole Foods, just last year. Or the role it played in the community meetings over the disposition of the Blessed Sacrament site, a few years back. If we all had amnesia, maybe we would think the neighborhood council deserved respect now. But most of us remember.
Maura November 02, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Pat, your points about the council are well taken but not the reason I found the editorial helpful and informative. It is useful to me to be reminded how political donations really work (completely aside from anything at all related to the JPNC). I thought the Gazette did a good job with that.

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