Washington Street Population Could More than Double

ESNA board member Carolyn Royce made notes of all the issues

Richard Heath

ESNA board member Carolyn Royce made notes of all the issues

If you want evidence why the city has finally launched a long-awaited planning effort for JP, look no further than this eye-popping prediction: Planners expect the Washington Street corridor to see population growth of as much as 2.5 times current levels.

That possibility was among the top topics of discussion last Monday as the first neighborhood review of the proposed development guidelines at the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association monthly meeting.

Chaired by Alvin Shiggs and Carolyn Royce; the discussion was led by Sue Pranger.

Marie Mercurio, senior planner for Jamaica Plain and coordinator of Plan JP/Rox, was joined by her colleague Tim Davis, senior housing advisor for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to answer questions and clarify concerns about the draft development guidelines. The planning push is a once-in-a-generation effort to shape the neighborhood’s future.

“We see about 3,000 new units of housing planned,” Pranger said. “That’s in addition to new units already underway. If all these are built- and these don’t include the as-of-right projects – we’ll see a population growth two-and-a-half times” what there is today.

Residents packed the room for the most recent meeting about Plan JP/Rox.

Richard Heath

Residents packed the room for the most recent meeting about Plan JP/Rox.

The biggest concerns of all were anxiety over affordability and scale of the future neighborhood. The idea of a population growth of two and a half times was unsettling to most in the  audience.

There were many new faces and streets represented in the full house; residents came from Jess, Porter and Haverford streets in addition to Atherton, Chilcott Place, School, Beethoven, Olmsted and Washington streets.

Egleston Square was one of the strongest voices to repeatedly call for a Washington Street corridor planning study in the throes of the rambunctious debate over the 3200 Washington St. development last year. Many in Egleston Square now appear apprehensive with the preliminary planning guidelines released in early March.

“Anxiety, estranged, angry and concerned” were the words used in many of the remarks during the evening’s discussion. Many seemed to misunderstand that the JP/Rox process would put a moratorium  on development; instead the reverse is happening.

“[Developers] are flipping and streaming through the BRA website,” said Brookside Avenue resident Scott Shear. “In our neighborhood, seven buildings within six blocks of my home [are being built.] The city needs to think about this.”

“One thing that jumped out at us is the amount of height,” said Pranger. “Some of the 5-6 story buildings proposed are up against 3-story  buildings in residential areas.”

Sue Pranger points out the height problem in the draft guidelines.

Richard Heath

Sue Pranger points out the height problem in the draft guidelines.

Mercurio stood for over an hour before the shifting power point prepared by ESNA and calmly responded to each and very question.

“You asked us to study [the Washington corridor] and to show some changes we saw  coming,” she said. “Your reaction is helping us understand where the new zoning is heading.”

“Zoning already exists,” Mercurio went on. “We are amending the dimensional requirements of what already exists. We’re refining these ideas with set-backs and step-backs. Our next iteration will be urban design guidelines.”

Tim Reardon of Beethoven Street called the proposed guidelines  a “provocative set of concepts. Let us respond to this zoning envelope.”

He went on to add “It’s a red herring to throw out the two-and-a-half times population growth. That’s not realistic. It’s an exaggeration.”

Another “red herring,” he said “is affordability. There are concessions to height that can increase affordability.”

Marie Mercurio responds to a concern, Next to her is Tim Davis. Carolyn Royce at far right

Richard Heath

Marie Mercurio responds to a concern, Next to her is Tim Davis. Carolyn Royce at far right

Dan Thomas worried about developers assembling smaller parcels that are separately outside the zoning requirements and build as-of-right.

“The plan has three big intersections,” said one resident. “Jackson Square, Egleston Square and Forest Hills. These are long, wide streets surrounded by clusters of low-rise residential clusters on narrow side streets. Put the bigger buildings at Jackson Square and Egleston Square and scale down at Forest Hills. A 6-story building [3200 Washington St] is too big. Too crowded. Not a walkable city.”

Mercurio said the plan is looking to adjust the areas of Columbus Avenue, Washington Street and Amory Street.

“Amory Street,” she said “is zoned light industrial. No one is allowed under the code to live there. We want to rebrand that area to permit residential but not exclude light industry. We have to change the zoning to do that. We want to brand this as a 21st-century industrial area.”

Addressing the vexing worry over affordability of housing, Mercurio said “we want to keep Article 55 [of the Jamaica Plain zoning code] as it is today. But if we want more affordability then we have to be comfortable with the density bonus. If we allow a 6-story building in a 3-story zoned area, that will trigger the density bonus.”

“We’re  exploring the density bonus idea on a city-wide basis,” Mercurio said. “[We want to] provide  additional affordability in not only housing but retail.”

Th density bonus is a new thought among the members of the JP/Rox Plan team, which includes the Housing Innovation Lab and Department of Neighborhood Development.

“It’s not official yet, but we’re heading in that direction. We will  discuss this at the next public meeting,” Mercurio said.

The density bonus and the inclusionary development requirements will be tied to the zoning of parcels.

“We haven’t decided what the lot size will be for the density bonus,” Mercurio said; but she admitted “there is a lot of fear about height among people.”

Jose de la Rosa said he was the owner of 3171 Washington St (formerly CoCo’s Lounge.) “Will the plan allow me to build a 5-6 story building?”

Mercurio replied “Today its at 35 feet until we amend the zoning, but potentially it will not change the height.”

3171 Washington St.The new owner Jse dela Rosa asked if he would be allowed to build a 5 -6 story building on that lot. It would match the brewery

Richard Heath

3171 Washington St. The new owner, Jose de la Rosa, asked if he would be allowed to build a 5 -6 story building on that lot. It would match the brewery.

One resident, who lives  with her husband on Jess Street, said she had “anxiety about areas being developed. The plans are beautiful, but the result is different. We are afraid. Do not dismiss our anxiety. Height is ok but it might not happen in the future. What are the safeguards for our anxiety after the planning?”

“Planning is a living and breathing document.” Mercurio replied. “It is different for each developer.

She gave Goddard House as an example of how a plan can be successful.

“Goddard House agreed to keep that building [the original 1927 home.] There was no way they would not. They did not leave that [meeting] room until they made that decision, as well as one that regarded the [Emerald Necklace] parks.”

George Lee raises the issue of maximum affordability in the JP Rox guidelines.

Richard Heath

George Lee raises the issue of maximum affordability in the JP Rox guidelines.

George Lee of Affordable Housing Egleston gave a brief presentation on the need to maintain the existing affordability of the Egleston Square Neighborhood for those earning 30 percent of the area median income or above. Lee maintained — as he has for the past year — that the JPRoxPlan does not provide enough affordability.

Tim Davis said that keeping the planning area affordable for low- and moderate-income families is “what we have heard very clearly listing to those suggestions.”

He said the new inclusionary development plan (IDP) will be inserted into the new zoning for the Washington Street corridor plan. Davis said as-of-right buildings would be required be affordable for households making 70 percent of AMI. In current numbers, that’s $48,250 for one-income households and $68,950 for households with two breadwinners.

The density bonus could also be used, he added. The city has three programs to keep rents at the 50-70 percent AMIlevel: the IDP. the density bonus and linkage funds through the Department of Neighborhood Development.

Mercurio said there will be a “couple of months for the plan and a couple of months for the zoning.” She later told the JP News that the next workshop will be held in May.

Tim Davis Sr Housing Advisor for the BRA addresses Lee's concerns.

Richard Heath

Tim Davis, senior housing advisor for the BRA, addresses Lee’s concerns.

  • hold

    What is a “Density bonus”?

    • JamaicaPlainNews

      Great question. We should have explained that better in the story. It means allowing developers to build taller (or go beyond zoning restrictions in other ways) in exchange for higher numbers of affordable units or other public benefits.

  • kinopio

    Umm, a 6 story building makes a city unwalkable according to Dan Thomas? Density IS what makes cities walkable. Move out to the suburbs where density is low and try to walk everywhere you need to go and you will quickly realize you can’t.

    • DavidMoreau

      I had a hard time understanding that point. Perhaps they are referring to the lack of a grocery store, other services, schools, etc within a few blocks? If the neighborhoods are next to the T, that seems to me to indicate that they are walkable neighborhoods.

      • Monster

        I assume that the concern is less about “walkability” than about changing the architectural nature of the neighborhood. JP has historically been a sort of ideal model of a mid-density streetcar suburb that combined the best of both worlds: detached single and multi-family homes with yards within walking distance of transit and commercial amenities.

  • Marie Mercurio

    Thanks for your continued coverage, Richard. A few points of clarification. The BRA has not ventured to estimate the potential change in population within the study area as part of this planning process. Understanding that the Boston’s population growth isn’t isolated to one neighborhood or another, we instead have focused on areas that are changing, are close to transit, and could support the administration’s goal of creating new housing.

    At our PLAN JP/Rox community meeting on March 5, we presented different development scenarios that could create 3,100-3,700 potential new units within the study area. We showed those scenarios in areas that are changing or likely to change. The intent was to get feedback on the “feel” of those scenarios. However, now the housing unit count is being used to extrapolate for population growth when that was not our original intent. The population growth estimate that the article cites in the title isn’t grounded in solid research, and emphasizes a doubling in population without providing a time frame over which that might happen.

    Thanks again for all of your great coverage of PLAN JP/ROX. (http://bit.ly/planjprox)

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