BPDA Staff Discusses Squares + Sidewalks Initiative During Virtual Chester Square Neighbors Meeting

Boston Planning & Development Agency staff was on hand for the monthly meeting of Chester Square Neighbors held virtually on Wednesday, Jan. 3, to discuss the Squares + Sidewalks initiative, which intends to modernize planning and zoning regulations for future development within the city’s commercial centers.

​The objectives of this initiative include “modernizing and diversifying land uses; reducing regulatory obstacles and reliance on variances for mixed-use development and renovations; supporting more diverse housing options; ensuring alignment with building code and safety standards; encouraging sustainable design and green building standards; and [creating] zoning that represents and codifies community visions for growth for the near future,” according to Eileen Michaud, a BPDA planner.

​As part of the initiative, the BPDA is now soliciting feedback on a draft zoning text amendment released last month, which aims to  “allow for a mix of active uses and other modernized land uses in main streets and squares” and “create a set of new zoning options for main streets and squares that promote housing, community and public spaces, businesses and active streets,” said Andrew Nahmias, BPDA senior planner. (Visit

https://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/e0edcdb4-1866-46ec-8fc8-e3d565dcced5 to view the draft document.)

​The draft zoning text creates a range of new district types, said Nahmias, including ‘Transition Residential,’ which comprise housing only, with no more than 14 units, on smaller parcels; ‘Main Street Living,’ which comprise mixed-use buildings with mainly housing, as well as some small ground-floor storefronts and local services allowed; ‘Main Street Mixed Use,’ which comprise mid-rise, mixed use buildings that fill the front of the lot, with small to medium ground-floor active uses required; ‘Active Main Streets,’ which comprise taller, mid-size buildings that fill the front of the lot, with housing, hotels, and commercial uses allowed on the upper floors, as well as medium-scale, ground-floor active uses required; and ‘Active Squares,’ which allows for taller, mid-rise buildings that fill the front of the lot, with a  “wider” range of ground-floor, active uses allowed.

​While the draft zoning text creates these new zoning types, they can only be applied via ‘Small Area Plans,’ which focus on specific squares and streets throughout the city “to make detailed-action-oriented plans,” said Nahmias. The plans would concentrate on the local level, rather than on a particular neighborhood, to “support housing growth, and provide investment opportunities supported by city services,” he added .

​Moreover, the BPDA intends to release a map amendment informed by the community process for the ‘Small Area Plans’ in the near future, said Nahmias, which would look at zoning changes within specific geographical areas. Both the proposed zoning text amendment and the proposed map amendment for each area would require the approval of both the BPDA board and the Boston Zoning Commission before they can be implemented.

​The BPDA’s Squares + Sidewalks initiative will eventually be rolled out in around five different neighborhoods, including Mattapan, which recently adopted a residential zoning amendment. This matter is still under discussion at the city level, said Nahmias, but it will be presented to the public in the near future.

​Once implemented, the initiative wouldn’t affect either large- or small-project review and instead only impact land-use regulations within the zoning itself, added Nahmias.

​Carol Blair, president of CSN, said she was initially “attracted” by the BPDA’s Squares + Sidewalks initiative because it would ideally create consistent zoning on both sides of Massachusetts Avenue, unlike today, where the South End side of Mass Ave is subject to different city zoning regulations than those for the Lower Roxbury side.

​The BPDA is soliciting public input on draft zoning until Sunday, Jan. 28. To submit public comments, or for more information on the BPDA’s Squares + Sidewalks initiative, visit https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/squares-streets.

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