New Zoning Amendment Passes Quietly in BPDA

By Seth Daniel

A little-known zoning text amendment quietly passed a vote of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) last Thursday that would increase the density of residential projects allowed in the New York Streets area in exchange for putting more affordable units on site.

The text amendment will now go to the Zoning Commission for a hearing on Nov. 9, and if passed, would be focused on the Quinzani’s project, but would have implications for many underutilized properties in the area that are ripe for redevelopment.

Virtually no one surveyed knew of the amendment until the agenda for the BPDA Board meeting came out on Wednesday, Oct. 19, and even after the vote had been taken, few neighborhood activists knew about the proposal.

The amendment is isolated to the EDA North Zones 1 and 2, which encompass the area known as New York Streets – roughly Herald, Traveler, Harrison, Albany and Shawmut Streets – and is targeted to the Quinzani’s project on Harrison Avenue by Related Beale. It calls for taking the floor area ratio (FAR), a measure of the density, from 6.5 to 8.0 in Planned Development Areas (PDA) in that district. The quid pro quo is that anyone taking advantage of that would have to provide 20 percent affordable units within the development.

“This is really a refinement of the area and not a re-zoning by any means,” said Sara Myerson, director of planning for the BPDA. “There are no changes in height and no changes to open space requirements…We felt this an acceptable trade off to do this to have a small increase in density to get this additional benefit of more affordable housing inside the project.”

Jonathan Greeley, director of development review at the BPDA, said the change came as a result of community input when members of several Impact Advisory Groups (IAGs) and residents at the South End Forum in September called for more affordable units to be put inside of developments instead of allowing 10 percent on site and 10 percent off site.

That came to bear on the Quinzani’s site, and when the BPDA asked for more units on site, the developer asked if they could bump up the massing through higher FARs.

“We talked with them about getting more affordable housing on site,” he said. “They took a look at it and said they could do 20 percent if we gave them a little extra square footage in the project. The project has been well-received in the neighborhood. There have been some design issues to iron out, but the project has been well-received.

Nevertheless, several community group leaders had never heard of the zoning text amendment, even those who are involved in the New York Streets area said off the record that there hadn’t been any community input on it.

In several presentations by Related Beale to community groups – including a presentation in late September – nothing was mentioned about any possible change in zoning to the district in order to get more affordable housing.

Both Myerson and Greeley contended that the Quinzani’s IAG was informed of the change at its Tuesday, Oct. 18, meeting in Ink Block.

Most everyone surveyed who pay attention to such matters for civic associations said they had no forewarning of the change.

Myerson said the change in density was not “substantive” and satisfied a major concern of the neighborhood – that being affordable units that aren’t contained within a project.

The change would also affect prime properties such as the Stanhope Garage site, the Boston Emporium storefronts, the Chinese supermarket, the Tufts parking lot, Stuart Rose’s building on East Berkeley Street and Planet Storage – to name a few.

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