City Ponders Future of Zoning in the Fenway

The Boston Planning & Development Agency sponsored a Fenway Community Advisory Committee meeting virtually on Tuesday Oct. 25, to discuss the future of zoning in the neighborhood.

The meeting, which was co-sponsored by the office of City Councilor Kenzie Bok, was the second in a two-part series that also included an Oct. 25 meeting to discuss the start of the Fenway-Kenmore Transportation Action Plan, which is being developed in tandem with new zoning regulations for the Fenway.

Kristina Ricco, a senior planner for the BPDA, described zoning in the Fenway as “regulatory lasagna” comprising “layers” of zoning, including the base zoning for the neighborhood, which was adopted in 2004; Gateway Development Overlay Districts, which allow for increased FAR (Floor Area Ratio) and building height for projects deemed beneficial to the whole district; Planned Development Area (PDA) restrictions, which establishes special zoning controls for large and complex projects; and city ordinances, which won’t change due to the proposed zoning reform in the neighborhood.

There are currently 13 large-scale development projects in the West Fenway and another six projects that are approved but have yet to break ground, which all together amount to nearly 7 million square feet of development, said Ricco.

Other projects that are proposed and under review, including 1400 Boylston St., Fenway Corners, 2 Charlesgate West, and Longwood Place, would bring this total to more than 10 million square feet of development, added Ricco. (While Longwood Place is actually located outside the confines of the Fenway, Ricco said she included the project as it would greatly impact the neighborhood.)

All four of these proposed projects would require “some changes to zoning as currently proposed,” said Ricco, such as the 1400 Boylston St., which would require a zoning change since its PDA eligibility has lapsed; and 2 Charlesgate West and Longwood Place – both of which would be seeking PDAs.

As for the next steps for this process, Ricco said the city plans to sponsor a public meeting in December to discuss zoning reform and the Fenway-Kenmore Transportation Action Plan, as well as another meeting the following month that would examine use and height, along with PDA eligibility scenarios. The BPDA  and the Boston Zoning Commission (BZC) are then expected to adopt relevant changes to Fenway zoning in the spring of 2023, added Ricco.

Fenway CAC member Rich Giordano said he was “a little bit stunned” by the ambitious timeframe the city has set for reforming zoning in the Fenway.

Giordano also pointed to the need for different types of housing in the Fenway, as well as for daycare and job training in the neighborhood.

Fenway CAC member Tim Horn pointed to what he described as a “failure in zoning” in the Fenway, particularly in allowing developers to site affordable housing for project in the neighborhood off-site.

“We need that middle class housing, and that’s what’s making people move out of the neighborhood because it’s not there in the zoning,” said Horn.

Fenway CAC member Kelly Brilliant said she wishes that project review would take into consideration the “aesthetics” of a project, in addition to height and FAR,

Councilor Bok said the current approach to zoning reform in the Fenway came in part through her efforts after she was unable to get the BPDA to fund PLAN: Fenway – a neighborhood planning initiative led by BPDA in the spirit of its PLAN: East Boston.

“We’ve heard consistently from the neighborhood that a more planning-based approach is needed for development [in the Fenway],” said Councilor Bok.

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