Wu names two new BPDA board members, as agency awaits other changes

Mayor Michelle Wu on Monday named two new members to the board of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the entity that she once campaigned to abolish but that she is now working to gradually reshape in alignment with her vision.

The appointments come with much of that vision still unrealized.

Set to join the five-member board are Raheem Shepard, a regional manager for a carpenters’ union, and Kate Bennett, the outgoing head of the Boston Housing Authority. The City Council must approve the appointments.

Shepard and Bennett are Wu’s first new appointees to the board since she took office almost two years ago. Shepard is replacing Michael Monahan, a local leader in the electrical workers union IBEW, as the board’s representative from organized labor. Bennett is filling a seat left vacant since Carol Downs exited the board last year.

If approved, they will join the board’s chair, tech executive Priscilla Rojas, as well as architect and educator Ted Landsmark and financial adviser Brian Miller, who holds the seat controlled by the governor. Miller was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Baker in 2020. Wu also moved to reappoint Rojas to the board on Monday. Her term has expired and she has been serving under holdover status.

Shepard was named to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal last year, in Wu’s shakeup of that entity. The ZBA and BPDA board review some of the same projects.

“Raheem Shepard and Kate Bennett are tremendous additions to the board who will bring experience and focus to make Boston the best city for families — affordable and green, with opportunities connecting every generation,” Wu said in a statement.

Pursuing a BPDA shakeup

Wu once vowed to end the BPDA, blasting the agency for putting the needs and desires of real estate developers over those of residents. But she now envisions keeping a different version of the BPDA around.

The mayor still plans to shift BPDA employees to a new city planning department. Boston planning chief Arthur Jemison has said he does not expect those transfers to occur until next year’s budget cycle in mid-2024, at the earliest.

Wu has in fact proposed abolishing what would remain of the BPDA — the board and its powers and responsibilities, essentially — and sister agency Economic Development and Industrial Corp. of Boston. But that comes with an important caveat: She wants to replace them with another redevelopment authority, also named the BPDA, also governed by a board. 

The new BPDA would have a focus on affordability, equity and climate resiliency built into its founding statute, with a new framework for the use of urban renewal powers. Wu needs the state Legislature’s approval to kill the old BPDA and create the new one, a hurdle she is far from guaranteed to clear.

Earlier this year, board members pushed back against some of the changes sought by Wu, in a rare public display of disagreement.

At the board’s February meeting, BPDA staff put forward an executive order calling on the agency to take steps like prioritizing planning and improving Article 80 development review. Jemison ultimately asked that the order be tabled after Landsmark and Miller lamented the uncertainty faced by BPDA staffers about their future and a perceived lack of clarity around the policies being pursued.

That executive order has not been brought back before the board, though Wu and the BPDA can pursue much, if not all, of their priorities without the order’s approval. For instance, the order called for the completion of existing planning efforts, something that is already underway.

The board has approved other Wu initiatives such as a “linkage” fee hike and tougher requirements for the city’s inclusionary development policy, or IDP. Other planned changes are still in the works, notably a “scorecard” that can earn projects faster permitting reviews as well as the standardization of community benefits expected from projects, sometimes called mitigation packages.

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