An initial discussion with property owners on Suffolk Street and in that area regarding potential eminent domain takings of vacant land was met with solid resistance at a Council subcommittee meeting on July 27.
Council President Roy Avellaneda has floated the idea of taking vacant land in the area of Suffolk Street and Shawmut Street by eminent domain for the purposes of creating much-needed affordable homeownership opportunities. That idea has been floating around for several months now, and in a meeting on July 27, several property owners were invited up to hear their concerns and their plans – and it was a major backfire on a move that Avellaneda said was mostly directed by Eastern Salt and their purchase of the old Boston Hides & Furs plant.
“I don’t feel the City should take land from anyone that has worked hard their entire lives,” said Kenneth Lewis, whose family lives on Essex Street and uses the back vacant lot for parking and gardening. “My father used to deliver Wonder Bread. My mother used to work three shifts, 90 hours a week to provide us more than what they had. My mother and my father are very upset about this. I don’t think this is the right thing to do…This is not what’s best for the City.”
Lewis, furthermore, said he and his family have been denied variances in the past to try to build on the property, as they want to build a home for family members. However, they were always denied the variance to do so. He said it would be wrong for the City to take his property, and build on it when his family owns it and wasn’t allowed to build on it.
“When I got this letter in the mail, it was the first time this City has broken my heart – that the City would try to or threaten to take land my family owned our entire lives,” he said. “It’s land my family tried to build on and were denied repeatedly by the City. If we can’t build on it, how is it even feasible for the City to propose more housing to be built on it?”
Later, for a lot owned by Maria Teixeira on Suffolk, her son was very animated and said he uses the lot to store his business vehicles. He said it’s none of Avellaneda’s business what he does with his land.
“Your family build half this city and you still own a lot of it,” he said to Avellaneda. “That’s beautiful what you did. How come we can’t do that? We want to build up so we never have to worry. We’re trying to build the generational wealth for our family that your family built for your family. You can’t take that from us…We’d be willing to work with you if you want to buy our land, but we need $10 million because it’s worth that much to us. It is priceless to our family…It’s not your own business what we do with our land. It’s my business to keep owning my land…We’re not letting you take it.”
Several City Councillors were also skittish about the idea, and said they wouldn’t support taking property that was owned and in good standing.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he was only presenting a plan of action about how to take property by eminent domain, which includes hiring a consultant and doing a study that would cost about $75,000. However, he said he did not recommend moving on this idea.
Avellaneda said afterward that the meeting was just a fact-finding expedition to invite property owners up to the Council and find out if they had plans to develop it. He said there was no intention of taking any property, and in fact, the biggest target for the idea was the Eastern Salt property and not so much the smaller land owners that showed up.
He said he is concerned that some of his colleagues spread misinformation about his intentions.
“If anyone is trying to manipulate the conversation by saying Roy is trying to take your land, then shame on them,” said Avellaneda. “They are probably shifting the conversation politically in a way that’s beneficial to them. I wanted to talk to Eastern Salt and they didn’t show up. We plan to continue this conversation to another time.”
There has yet to be any additional meetings scheduled on the issue, and the $75,000 appropriation for a consultant and appraiser was put on hold too.