The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a virtual community meeting on October 8 regarding Urban Renewal in the South End, as the renewal of the plan is set to expire in April 2022.
The agency presented to the community about UR tools and how it is still used today, as well as took questions and comments from residents.
Chris Breen, the BPDA’s Urban Renewal manager, went through a history of UR in the South End and how it has affected certain parcels of land in the neighborhood. He also explained how the BPDA is looking towards the future when it comes to UR.
The South End is one of 16 UR areas in Boston, Breen said, and the plan was originally approved in 1965 with the goals of reducing “blight and incompatible uses in residential areas, improve the quality of housing with preserved or new housing, provide new housing for elderly, [and] preserve the street patterns, row houses, and parks and squares,” according to a slide presented at the meeting.
Back when the plan was first approved, residents were looking for new things in the South End, Breen said, and there was a strong focus on senior housing and multi family housing dating back to the mid 1960s.
Breen explained that to this day, many other cities still use UR, including Boston. In the South End, “the BPDA used Urban Renewal tools to protect expiring affordable housing uses and to help create a new parcel whose building will also have 100% affordability” on Parcels 57 and 59, according to the presentation.
Breen also talked about the Urban Renewal Action Plan, which is a “list of objectives that the City Council and the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) gave us to complete by 2022,” Breen said.
He also said that the BPDA was asked to create a website dedicated to UR, which has been completed, as well as to put all UR related meetings in a calendar format to be accessed via the BPDA website, which has also been completed. Additionally, the records management system has been recently switched over to Box, a cloud content management and file sharing service, where deeds and other paperwork are stored and organized for easy reference.
Additionally, the BPDA has to provide a 30 day notice for minor modifications to the City Council and the DHCD. UR is also available for viewing on the BPDA zoning viewer, and there is an inventory of BPDA owned property, as well as Land Disposition Agreements (LDAs). Breen explained that an LDA is “a contract between buyer and seller regarding use of land,” and if UR goes away, the LDA restrictions will go away as well.
Breen then gave some examples of buildings and parcels in the South End that are part of Urban Renewal, including such affordable rentals as Castle Square, Parmelee Court, Roxbury Corners, Langham Court, and others, as well as places like the Boston Center for the Arts and Tropical Foods.
Breen also talked about deed restricted parcels, such as public facilities like the Boston Police station, as well as many open space parcels like the gardens at 1561 Washington Street, 75 Northampton Street, 108-138 Worcester Street, 561 Columbus Ave., and others, asd well as parks like Titus Sparrow and Peters Park.
“A lot of the South End’s open space is due to Urban Renewal,” Breen said.
The BPDA also owns many small parcels and strips of land in the South End. He said that UR is still used because the BPDA still owns a lot of property in the City and the tools can still be used, such as certain zoning and land use controls and housing affordability.
Neighbors seemed to enjoy the thoroughness of the presentation and learning about the history of UR in the South End.
Carol Blair, president of the Chester Square Neighbors asked how the UR plan will address infrastructure changes in the city moving forward.
Raul Duverge of the BPDA said that the federal funding is not really available, and the BPDA does try to address this issue during its Article 80 reviews for large scale projects. Breen added that if a developer wants a minor modification or an LDA amendment, the BPDA and the community “have leverage to request things like that,” referring to the infrastructure changes.
Resident Shiela Grove asked why it was “good to override the zoning,” as well as “why aren’t the LDAs enforceable if Urban Renewal is gone?”
Breen said that many of the LDAs are more strict than the City’s zoning code, and “The land use is generally pretty different.”
BPDA Urban Designer Alexa Pinard said that she has “never understood” why both the zoning code and UR have control over things like height and Floor Area Ratio (FAR).
In response to Grove’s second question, Breen said “that’s a legal question,” and because of the way the LDAs are written, they have a time frame that says how long they can be enacted for. It’s a legally binding document that states “if a project goes beyond that [time frame], it says or to the extent of the plan,” he said.
Grove said that she does not want to see affordable housing go away should the plan not be extended beyond 2022.
Other residents thanked Breen and others at the BPDA for all of their work on this topic.
Ken Kruckemeyer said that he urges the BPDA to “pay sufficient attention, equitable attention” to the Lower Roxbury portion of the neighborhood, and Breen said that he will ensure the next meeting is advertised to Roxbury residents.
Breen said that next steps include community workshops, and “many, many meetings over the next year or year and a half.”
The slideshow with all the information presented at this community meeting, as well as the full Zoom video is available for viewing at http://www.bostonplans.org/news-calendar/calendar/2020/10/08/urban-renewal-community-meeting-south-end.