Stuart St Gets New Zoning Regs

By Dan Murphy

After receiving a green light from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) board of directors in Februray, new zoning regulations for the Stuart Street district earned the approval of the Boston Zoning Commission last week.

The regulations are based on recommendations from the Stuart Street Planning Study, a multi-year planning process that concluded in 2011 and “examined potential development opportunities; identified and defined height, density and use guidelines; and developed scenarios for future development in the area,” according to the BRA Web site.

The study area is bound by St. James Avenue to the north, Dartmouth Street to the west, Columbus Avenue/Cortes Street to the south and Arlington Street to the east. It includes several significant landmarks, including the Hancock Building, the Old Hancock Building, Copley Square and Trinity Church. While the study area incorporates small portions of Bay Village and the South End, the new guidelines only have jurisdiction over parts of the district located in the Back Bay, said Lauren Shurtleff, BRA senior planner.

Under the new regulations, the district is divided into four areas, with maximum building heights ranging from 155 to 400 feet. The guidelines mandate that new developments provide an additional 2.5 percent more affordable housing units than required under the Mayor’s Executive Order on Inclusionary Development, and also that they achieve certifiable status at LEED Gold level or net zero-energy consumption, which exceeds the city’s current baseline level for sustainability. Moreover, Shurtleff said the regulations provide the district’s first protection from shadow impacts, ensuring that no proposed project cast any new shadow on Copley Square Park for more than two hours from 8 a.m. through 2:30 p.m. between March 21 and Oct. 21.

“[The regulations] are going to provide predictability of the impact of future projects for residents, particularly environmental impacts, and predictability of community benefits for developers,” Shurtleff said. “This will make the development process more seamless in the area.”

Shurtleff added, “This is a different way of doing things than we have done in past. It’s not often that both sides get something, and it’s unique that everybody was able to work together and come to some sort of compromise.”

Vicki Smith, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, said the group appreciates that the study recognizes the importance of assessing traffic, wind and shadow impacts of new projects on surrounding communities while encouraging the creation of more mixed-use and mixed-income housing.

“While we have concerns about the impacts of the proposed development in the Stuart Street area, we believe, as does the business community, that the predictability of the new zoning will be beneficial to all parties,” Smith wrote in an e-mail. “For NABB, the protection of the scale and livability of our historic district is paramount, and we are pleased that this will not change.”

Sue Prindle, a member of NABB’s executive committee member, lauded the work of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for its participation in the planning study.

“We appreciate the hard work of the IAG members on this project, particularly NABB’s representative, Janet Hurwitz, whose urban design skills were so important to the discussion,” Prindle wrote.

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