By Seth Daniel
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) has said it has changed course and wants to listen to the community more often.
After a meeting on Monday night, it appears the claim has some substance.
That was a little bit in doubt beforehand, as the BPDA had very quietly passed a text amendment that changed the zoning in the New York Streets area of the South End during an October Board meeting. The amendment was meant to up the amount of affordable housing on site in the Related Beal Quinzani’s project on Harrison Avenue, but a trade off to get that was to allow the density of the project to increase by about 25 percent – going from a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 6.5 to 8.
The fact that such a change would affect the entire district, and potentially several other key tracts of land, and that it was done without much community participation didn’t make the new and improved BPDA seem very sincere.
That all changed Monday night during an hour-long meeting with residents interested in finding out more about the critical zoning change, which is an amendment to the vast and voluminous community zoning effort that concluded about five years ago.
Michael Cannizzo, of the BPDA, explained the change and proposed a compromise that would make the zoning change applicable only to the second section of New York Streets – comprising the tract from Albany to Harrison, and Herald to East Berkeley. That would prevent the area on Washington Street and Shawmut Street above East Berkeley Street from being included.
“The administration is looking for more affordable housing and they want them in the building on site,” he said. “This helps to keep them on site…I have heard the concerns and we will take it back to the office and see if including just that one section is possible.”
In conversations with Related Beal, he said the amendment evolved as they needed more density in the building to make the 20 percent mark work.
“If we were going to deliver 20 percent affordable housing on site with an FAR of 6.5, they project wouldn’t work from a financial perspective,” said Andrew Hayes of Related. “This is something that evolved together with the BPDA…We do think this is a great public benefit to provide all of these affordable units on site.”
Neighbors had come to understand, they said, that the idea was a sound one and was to help Related Beal to make their project have more affordable housing on site. That said, most felt it was happening too fast and would affect numerous other sites beside Quinzani’s. They also said short discussions at an Impact Advisory Group meeting in October wasn’t the proper venue for a district-wide amendment.
Some of the other tracts that would qualify would be the Verizon switch building, the Tufts parking lot, the Druker parking lot (if the current permitted project were withdrawn), the corner of Ink Block at Herald and Albany, and the Chinese Supermarket on Washington Street.
“I like the Related Beal project; I don’t want to hurt your project, but there are too many other questions about the rest of the district at this time,” said Randi Lathrop. “You were looking at a zoning change for the entire district so the IAG wasn’t the right place to discuss that.”
Said neighbor Bob Wells, “Height around the edges on the north and east side isn’t a problem. On the other side its less appropriate because you’re up against six-story and four-story buildings. You have Castle Square at four-story buildings and across the street you could have a 150-foot building with that density because it qualifies.”
Others were not as keen on the idea of using zoning as a bargaining tool.
“I don’t think we need to rush into it for the sake of one development,” said Joshua Palter. “If they can’t do it, then they don’t need to develop…I’m all for affordable housing on site, but I don’t think we should be using our zoning rules as a bargaining chip to get that.”
On the sum, most neighbors were akin to accepting the change if it were limited to the Harrison/Albany zone only and were to exclude Washington and Shawmut. That was not promised, however, as a Dec. 14 Zoning Commission meeting already is expected to hear the change. It has already been advertised as a change for the whole district, but BPDA officials at the meeting said they would do what they could to perhaps get it pushed back to January in the compromise form.
For the Quinzani’s project, the change in the FAR results in going from 25 affordable units on site to 61 units on site. It also results in going from 250 units to 305 units.
Without the change being approved, Related said they had no path forward with the project in the new form with more affordable housing on site.