The Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA) voted overwhelmingly on April 11 to adopt its 10-page The Neighborhood Vision for Washington Street.
The Vision is a document that includes retail, commercial, open space and public realm recommendations. It addresses height, scale and density for the neighborhood. The Vision is in response to the JP-Rox Plan recommendations for the Washington Street corridor in which SNA members have been active.
It is the result of many SNA Washington Street Corridor subcommittee meetings led by Bill Reyelt, Jennifer Uhrhane, Kate Ziegler and Ruth Page, among others.
Reyelt said the Vision is, “…a voice. We have to offer what we have or we won’t have a voice. The window is closing very fast. We hope this vision is a living document.”
There was a sense of urgency in the crowded association meeting as one resident said the, “…(Boston Redevelopment Authority) is going to shove (rezoning) down our throats. We better be certain what we want.”
SNA co-chair Jennifer Uhrhane said the JPRox Plan has been “an extremely accelerated process of information gathering to develop scenarios for zoning changes.” She said that rezoning is going to happen for Washington Street.
The Stonybrook neighborhood (in which this writer lived for 20 years starting in 1972 on Forest Hills Street) is known for its triple-decker residences. The neighborhood was built up facing a foot entrance to Franklin Park on one side and the sprawling Forest Hills factory district, which extended along the railroad freight yards down to Green Street and the MBTA streetcar and bus yards on Washington Street.
But the changes of the industrial factory district and bus yards has mobilized the SNA, which is made up of residents living on about 16 streets, including Lotus and Burnett streets, Rockvale Circle, Rossmore Road, Williams Street, Brookley Road, Meehan and Plainfield streets.
The neighborhood itself has gone through dramatic change. It was once a neighborhood of rental residences with many longtime owner-occupied three-family houses 40 years ago. But today those same triple-deckers have become condominium association.
For five years SNA has been addressing the changes of the neighborhood from the industrial businesses, including autos, oil and transfer stations that characterized Forest Hills north of the parkway for over a century.
The area has also greatly changed due to planned and being built 4- and 6-story apartment buildings with 280 units on the site of Hughes Oil Company (originally the Commons at Forest Hills and is now MetroMark Apartments JP). Another development of another light industrial/automotive factory was at the old Flanagan and Seaton site (3521-3529 Washington St.) at McBride Street, which will be three buildings with 132 units.
These two back-to-back developments with what SNA members called “pioneering frontier developments on Washington Street” influenced a great deal of the Neighborhood Vision.
With both MetroMark and Flanaganand Seaton developments, SNA voted “not to oppose,” recognizing the precedent that neighborhood approval would mean to Forest Hills as a whole. SNA members instead sought to gain as much community benefits as possible; notably the extension of the Southwest Corridor Park.
As The Neighborhood Vision discusses the residents’ view of the future of their neighborhood as it relates to retail, commercial, open space and public realm recommendations — it is height, scale and density that are the most complex issues.
Some believe a precedent for height has already been set with the 6-story buildings on Washington Street with the zoning approval of Metro Mark and Flanagan and Seaton developments. The SNA Vision recommends limits and controls on density and scale on that height.
The Vision recommends “preservation of neighborhood scale by controlling massing, height and setbacks for portions of Washington Street abutting residential streets.” It states, “In general new developments should have sufficient setbacks and stepped down heights to greet abutting residential buildings and prevent a dwarfing and darkening effect on existing properties.”
Previously, SNA members worked with MetroMark developers to scale down one of the buildings on the Burnett Street side to three stories to match the existing housing.
With regards to resident housing, the Vision recommends “housing options that sustain diversity of our residential meting the recommendations of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council for 25% affordable units on site at a variety of income thresholds. The SNA strongly urges the use of Boston Area Median Income rater than Area Median Income when calculating affordability and income.”
SNA members would like to see “maximum off street parking ratios that discourage automobile use/ownership meeting or exceeding the Forest Hills Initiative guidelines for transit oriented development.”
In the inevitable tension between a neighborhood vision and regional needs the SNA contradicts itself by stating that it “…strongly urges that the current refueling operation be moved to a more appropriate lower density location thereby freeing up this high value transit oriented site for mixed use that better leverages its location to a major MBTA transit hub.”
A question SNA members posed, which has also been raised throughout Jamaica Plain, is whether the existing transit infrastructure of bus routes and Orange Line trains can accommodate what will be a dramatic increase in population along the Washington Street corridor.
The Vision states, “Washington Street cannot be widened nor can any of the side streets connected to it… the upcoming 25% increase in capacity of the Orange Line does not match what would be (needed to serve) an increase in residents.”
The JP-Rox Plan’s preliminary recommendation of 14- and 15 -story buildings on Washington Street as a “gateway” was cautiously received in the Vision.
“Any consideration for such heights must be subject to respect for massing and further regulated in such a way that height in excess of the conventional 69 foot height are subject to substantial setbacks (minimum of 70 feet) and street wall width restrictions at 69 feet to prevent excessively darkened overwhelmingly darkened canyon like pedestrian environment.”
Tall buildings were not acceptable for Washington Street on the smaller residential streets like Rossmore, Brookley and Stonley roads and Stedman Street.
The BRA recommendations for 5- and 6-story buildings on those streets raise concerns from SNA members because adjacent residential buildings are only three stories. Also, the streets are narrow and some don’t have sidewalks. SNA members would like to see 3- and 4-story buildings on those streets, but allow 5-story buildings between Stonley Road and Washington Street.
“We acknowledge change,” the Vision states. “At the same time additional uses and urban planning elements must maintain or even improve the quality of life for existing and future residents.”
The SNA voted to submit the Vision statement to the BRA as soon as possible.