BRA Board Approves New Zoning Guidelines for Stuart St District

By Jordan Frias

Building guidelines for the Stuart Street district of the Back Bay were approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) board of directors on February 10 and are now headed to the Boston Zoning Commission for further approval.

The Stuart Street district is bound by St. James Avenue to the north, Back Bay Station and Columbus Avenue to the south, Dartmouth Street to the west and Arlington Street to the east, according to the BRA’s website.

If approved, zoning changes would create some height limits on parcels in the district that were not there before, according to Lauren Shurtleff, a senior planner at the BRA. She said floor area ratio (FAR) restrictions, for the most part, used to dictate how tall a building could be on certain parcels.

“Now we actually have height limits that are specific, and the max of those are 400 feet,” she said.

Approval will also lead to more affordable housing in the city, as stated in the community benefit requirements for new development in the area under these guidelines. The requirement calls for 2.5 percent more affordable housing than required by the city’s inclusionary development policy at any given time.

Shurtleff said the approved guidelines include zoning changes that were developed by an advisory group of local business owners and neighborhood representatives that came together in 2008 and recently reconvened to review the guidelines late last year and early this year. Among the group were members of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB).

“The plan gives us more tools to address and ideally minimize some of the environmental impacts of wind, shadow and traffic inherent in any additional development. These issues affect not only residents, but thousands of Bostonians and tourists who pass through Copley Square and Back Bay station daily,” Vicki Smith, NABB chairman, said in an email.

The advisory group, which went on hiatus from 2010 to 2014, was advised by BRA officials to accept the 2011 draft of recommendations developed from an environmental impact study in 2010 “without substantial changes,” according to Shurtleff.

While some wanted a more up-to-date study of environmental impacts, Shurtleff and her colleagues assured members of the advisory group that the past study was sufficient enough, which convinced the group to support the zoning changes and guidelines.

“I think we were innovative then because we were looking at things like wind performance and increased sustainability,” she said. “Legally, there were certain things that we had put into the guidelines that we couldn’t do because they were superseded by zoning code, which we explained at another public meeting.”


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