District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok sponsored a public meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, at the Fenway Community Center to solicit public input that will help inform the city at it considers the future of zoning in the West Fenway.
Joining Councilor Bok for the in-person meeting were Jake Werner, her communications director and neighborhood liaison; Maggie Van Scoy, Mayor Michelle Wu’s Neighborhood Services liaison for Fenway-Kenmore, as well as for Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Mission Hill; Kennan Rhyne, the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s deputy director for downtown and neighborhood planning; and Kristina Ricco, the BPDA’s neighborhood planner for the Fenway, as well as for East Boston.
At the meeting, the group of nearly 50 neighborhood residents broke into five groups led by Councilor Bok and the other city officials. Participants were asked to think about zoning and how to approach zoning and planning in development, as well as what they hope to gain and fear losing from the city’s proposed new zoning guidelines for the West Fenway.
Meeting-goers were quick to point out that since the city’s adoption nearly 20 years ago of Article 66, which established a zoning article in the Fenway for the first time, nearly every (if not all) large-scale development project built in the neighborhood has required a zoning variance or the creation of a PDA (Planned Development Area) to move forward.
Some suggested that developers sometimes didn’t make a strong-enough case for needing a variance for their project, but the city allowed them the variance anyway. Projects that were granted PDAs have proven even more resistant to challenge, they said.
Those in attendance also expressed a desire to see more housing, particularly affordable units, as a component of future development in the neighborhood. An elementary school or a neighborhood library branch created as part of future development would also be welcome additions to the neighborhood, they said, as would businesses of service to residents, such as a hardware store or a florist.
Future developers were also advised to consider the scale, architecture, and materials of their proposed projects to best fit the context of the neighborhood.
The large number of “uncoordinated” Institutional Master Plans that have been developed in the neighborhood pointed to a need for a “more coordinated planning strategy,” according to one Fenway resident in attendance.
Many traffic studies provided by developers also often don’t take into account game days at Fenway Park, some said.
The Fenway-Kenmore Transportation Action Plan now being developed by the city will likely address some concerns regarding transportation challenges in the neighborhood, according to city officials.
While some said they felt there wasn’t a clear or cohesive understanding of zoning in the neighborhood, those in attendee also expressed a desire to see development projects evaluated on an individual basis to ensure they “match the values of Article 66.”
The BPDA had originally scheduled a virtual meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15, to discuss the future of zoning in the West Fenway, but that meeting has been postponed to a future, yet-to-be-determined date.