Not every abutter – not even every group of abutters – to a project has the time or resources to fight it in court if concerns are not addressed and resolved through the normal permitting and public-hearing process, which often stretches out over months and continuance after continuance. Sometimes going through the regular process ends with a compromise, a few redesigns and a decision that is not appealed (and even sometimes plans, as first presented, receive no objections).
The Planning Board’s essentially pending approval of a scaled-back mixed-use project in Union Square that will add nearly 40 units of affordable housing, as well as retail/commercial space and market-rate condos, following an appeal to the project in Land Court from abutters can be taken two ways. A cynical, though not unrealistic, take away is that the case needed to be taken to court to have the issue resolved and the project toned down.
A more positive person would, at the very least, see that when these projects – and there have been many, and there will be many more to come – are proposed, and when enough abutters don’t feel the plans are good for the area and start coming to meetings and voicing their concerns, then abutters begin to become neighbors, and those neighbors begin to talk about what their neighborhood is and what they would like it to either remain or become. These accidental activists often bring their skills from their personal or professional lives to bear in doing their part to a cause in which they probably never thought they’d be involved.
That is, obviously, not to say clearly inappropriate projects, even those allowed through unfortunate zoning permitting oversized developments, are a good thing. But as the revision to the Union Square proposal demonstrated, there are always as a resident to make enough noise to be heard.