5.3 min readBy Published On: September 20th, 2016Categories: News14 Comments

Things seem a little muddy when it comes to real estate development projects and the roles of neighborhood civic organizations.  In a recent article written by Andrew Ryan and Mark Arsenault in the Boston Globe, it was reported that some very shady business has been going down when it comes to real estate developers seeking approval from civic groups.

What exactly does that mean? Well, to put it simply, here’s what happens.  The developer needs approval for his project.  In order to get approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), or Zoning Board Authority (ZBA) neighborhood support is needed.  The developer reaches out to the neighborhood associations and civic groups.  They present their project.  Seems like a good project – they get approval.  Maybe there’s some give and take.  25 instead of 35 units.  More parking spots. Or  a developer is asked to make a donation to help create a park for the neighborhood – aka mitigation –  you know the neighborhood is going to be inconvenienced, so you’ll get a new park. But in some cases – unregistered “charities” have been created and the developer makes a donation directly to the neighborhood groups.    Below is an agreement put into place for development at 55 West Fifth Street.

● $10,000 to the Friends of Second Street Park within sixty (60) days of building permit issuance;
● $2,500 contribution to the Cityside Neighborhood Association within sixty (60) days of building permit issuance; and
● $2,500 contribution to the Saint Vincent Lower End Neighborhood Association within sixty (60) days of building permit issuance

Gary Murad – president of the St. Vinny’s/Lower End Neighborhood Association was the person who authored the above proposal and emailed the developer.  He also included, “It is not unusual for civic associations to receive donations from developers as part of community benefits, or donations by 3rd parties, which are used for member engagement, programming and communication.”  He then submitted his agreement with the developer to the BRA for approval.  The project was then approved by the BRA.
As for the Friends of Second Street Park – it’s city property – why does this group need 10k in its bank account? Shouldn’t the “donation” go directly to the city for the park.  Same goes for these neighborhood groups.  They are volunteer with little to no overhead etc.  Why do they need $2500?

When the Globe interviewed Murad and asked him about this, he claimed he got the idea to solicit direct donations directly from another civic association.  From the article:

The idea to solicit direct donations from developers came from another civic association, which Murad declined to identify.
“No one called me and said you can’t do that,” Murad said. “If someone [from the BRA or elsewhere] would have said, ‘Dude you can’t do that,’ I would have been like, ‘OK. I didn’t know.’ ”

Yes, that’s right, he pulled a Costanza!  (Remember on Seinfeld when George got fired for sleeping with the office cleaning lady on his desk.  When confronted by his boss, he said, “Was that wrong?  If I had know it was wrong, I wouldn’t have done it.” )

Over the summer, a defamation lawsuit shed light on this such process with one witness stating that Brian Mahoney, one of the “leaders” of the St. Vinny’s/Lower End Neighborhood Association strong-arms for cash.  “It is known in South Boston,” Lebedew said under oath, “that if you don’t pay Brian Mahoney cash in an envelope, then your job gets opposed.”

Brian Mahoney is also the editor in chief of South Boston Today – he local paper at the center of the defamation lawsuit over the summer. A suit was filed against Mahoney, John Ciccone, publisher, and managing editor Brian P. Wallace by Southie developer Gregg Donovan.  Basically, Donovan accused South Boston Today  of publishing falsehoods about his business and operating without permits.   The allegations state that Mahoney’s articles were written to generate opposition from the community to Donovan’s project because Donovan would not pay a “tribute” to Mahoney.  Honestly?  

Mahoney denies these allegations and claims he’s only “collecting” the checks for the neighborhood for “specific issues.”  Here’s where things get really murky.  All this money he’s “collecting” for the neighborhood are in a bank accounts with charities/non-profits not registered with the state and his home address listed for the address of the organizations.  Both of these organizations bank accounts have combined balances of $150,000.   The two unregistered non-profits are “Friends of Evans Field” and “Veterans Express II.”   You can read his testimony here!  

After reading the testimony you’ll discover, Mahoney seems to have his hand out for a lot of “causes” in particular sports and veterans. But it is not clear how much either of these causes have benefited directly from these donations.  Apparently, some of the money made it to these groups but shouldn’t all of the money donated go to the intended cause? A developer donating to the upkeep of Evans Field should write the check directly to South Boston Little League or the City of Boston for maintenance of the field – not an individual, a neighborhood group or an unregistered non-profit.

So there you have it.  It’s amazing to me that civic associations and organizations – that are made up a small percentage of this neighborhood – are the ones negotiating deals, soliciting donations for certain neighborhood projects, and falsely representing the voice of the community when it comes to development.  If the project was terrible for the neighborhood but the developer made a large donation to a “cause,” would it gain approval from the civic association?  I’ll let you decide, but judging by the amount of development and lack of visible benefits the neighborhood is actually receiving, I’m guessing if you’re a developer who lines the right pocket, you’ll get approval.  Granted, not all civic groups and neighborhood associations are corrupt – most of them do a great deal for our community and should be applauded.  But as a community, we need to take a closer look.

I have no issue with a developer making a donation to help a neighborhood improve, i.e. local schools, new parks, infrastructure, municipal parking garages, local charities and art programs.   We just need to eliminate the middle man.  When it comes to our neighborhood civic groups, it’s clear we need transparency.  Without it, there’s so much room for corruption.

14 Comments

  1. mags September 20, 2016 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    If the author of this piece had ever gone to a community meeting she might understand that community support IS NOT needed in order for a developer to get his project approved. Ms Dahill, you indite all neighborhood groups because of the perceived actions of a few individuals then finish off with – well not all of them do this and some of them do good work and some donations are ok. You speak from ignorance my dear. A journalist you are not. Maybe you can get a job at the Boston Globe.

    • Maureen Dahill September 20, 2016 at 9:21 pm - Reply

      I have attended many neighborhood meetings and various civic meetings and have reported on them and live tweeted them for CIS. You evidently did not read my entire piece. I did not say that all projects need to get approved but I do know that the BRA and ZBA sometimes asks for neighborhood feedback – case in point – Starbucks. I did not indite all neighborhood groups – I was calling out the ones mentioned in the Globe article. From the piece I wrote: “Granted, not all civic groups and neighborhood associations are corrupt – most of them do a great deal for our community and should be applauded.” So maybe you should read an article fully before jumping all over me. Thank you!

    • Heather September 21, 2016 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Brian Mahoney, is that you?

  2. Steve September 20, 2016 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    Mags starts name calling and presents no new facts or information.

    Maureen, thank you for bringing us good reporting.

  3. Mags September 21, 2016 at 1:39 am - Reply

    Don’t see any name calling Steve, and if I was to present any new facts or information it certainly wouldn’t be to Ms. Dahill. Good reporting? Rehashing comments from another newspaper is not good reporting. Repeating comments from questionable sources – really? And the repeated use of “quotes” around certain words shows the “reporters” bias.

  4. Maureen Dahill September 21, 2016 at 11:21 am - Reply

    I was not reporting – it was a column. It is my take on the Globe’s article and my belief that civic associations should not be accepting checks from a developer on behalf of the neighborhood, charity, organization etc. especially when the civic organization’s support or non support of a project could make or brake whether the BRA or ZBA decision on that project. If you don’t like reading my writing on Caught in Southie, don’t. No one is forcing you to log on. You can continue to read the great reporting of other local South Boston papers.

  5. Mary Cooney September 21, 2016 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately the story yet to be told is why developers continue to be granted variances without merit that are arbitrary and capricious by the political ZBA and BRA. The projects add millions to the value of the LLC’s and projects they invest in at the expense of the zoning code protection that abutters and neighbors expected. The neighborhood loses.

    • Mags September 22, 2016 at 3:10 pm - Reply

      The neighborhood always loses in the end. The community process often seems like a farce. But for the very few developers that actually give a damn, the rest of them and their cohorts at City Hall / BRA are snickering all the way to the bank. The focus on the measly donations these guys occasionally cough up is so misleading – dirty journalism at it’s best.

  6. Kevin September 21, 2016 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Shouldn’t that be ‘indict?’

    • Mags September 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm - Reply

      Thank you for noticing the common misuse / misspelling of the words indite / indict Mr. Kevin Webster. You add so much to this conversation.

      • Steve September 22, 2016 at 6:05 pm - Reply

        Thanks for covering this. Obviously the flow of these funds should be investigated. The “but this crime is so small compared to others” argument by Mags is sad, and cynical. Crime is crime. I think that the city should also recognize that so few people belong to these groups that their input shouldn’t even be considered without a documented and open abutters/neighborhood meeting.

        • Mags September 23, 2016 at 7:03 pm - Reply

          Since I don’t consider developers making contributions to neighborhood groups a crime then your statement that I make the argument that it is ‘small crime’ is bogus. You are wrong about neighborhood groups having few members – many neighborhood groups have large email list but when it comes to showing up at the meetings, it’s true, most people are too busy, have other commitments, or just aren’t interested – that is however, until there’s a development going up next door or across the street from them. Then the local neighborhood group are the first people they call.

          By the way, abutter and neighborhood meetings are open to everyone and the city can only consider the opinions of those who show up – not those who don’t.

  7. Mike September 24, 2016 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    A better way is needed to measure resident opinions. Neighborhood association attendance is too small as a percent of total neighborhood and conclusions are based on the noise of a few.

  8. Arthur September 25, 2016 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Blame your local politicians and their psychophants. They are the ones who got this ball rolling by having their hands out and putting as much as they could, sold you shit and told you it was sunshine.

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