The Boston Redevelopment Authority is hosting an expo this Wednesday, Sept. 21, to update the public on the final draft of PLAN: JP/Rox.
PLAN: JP/Rox is an ongoing planning study of the area spanning Forest Hills, Egleston Square and Jackson Square. The boundaries are generally Washington Street, Columbus Avenue and Amory Street, so the plan mostly encompasses Jamaica Plain, but does include Roxbury as well. The goal of the study is to engage with the community to determine future development uses of the area.
The plan, which Jamaica Plain News has covered extensively during the past year, has its supporters, who appreciate efforts to plan for inevitable development in the neighborhood, but it has also drawn feedback from vocal opponents who do not think it goes far enough in protecting affordable housing or neighborhood character, among other concerns.
The expo will be held Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. in the English High School cafeteria. Attendees will be able to provide feedback during the expo, and public comments will be accepted for a week afterward. There is also a public feedback survey available online at http://bit.ly/planjproxfeedback. The full final draft plan is available by clicking here.
Marie Mercurio, senior planner for the BRA, said that this is a final plan, but that it can still be edited. “We want to make sure we are still open to feedback, and hope there aren’t significant changes,” she said. “If people haven’t had the chance to voice their concerns and offer feedback or add on to comments, [then they will be able to do so]. Or if this draft is not what they want, they can comment on that, too.”
The final draft plan will be presented to the BRA’s board Oct. 20. If approved, the plan would be finalized, and then be considered a blueprint for amending current zoning codes in the area. A public process would also occur to gather feedback on amending the zoning code.
So What’s in the Plan?
Affordable housing has been a point of contention in developing PLAN: JP/Rox, which proposes that 3,500 more housing units be built in the study area. According to the draft plan, there are currently about 1,800 renters in the study area, and nearly 1,300 of them have incomes below $50,000.
Among the major recommendations in the study is the creation of a density bonus program that could allow developers, if they opt in, to build above maximum allowable height levels in exchange for including more affordable housing in proposed projects. If enacted, the program would be evaluated — and potentially re-calibrated — within six months to a year to determine whether it is meeting affordable housing goals. The program is just one of several possibilities that could provide more affordable housing, Mercurio said; options such as land banking could also be used.
The draft also calls for 44 percent of the plan’s proposed affordable housing be sited at the MBTA Arborway Bus Yard, but the MBTA recently said there are no plans to cede that land. Putting affordable housing at the Arborway yard is a long-term idea, and the BRA “isn’t hanging our hat on that one,” according to Mercurio.
“We have heard loud and clear that the affordable housing projection for that parcel is not accurate, and we are not considering it for the near future. We are very clear it’s a long-term idea and we are refocusing ourselves on something that is closer,” Mercurio said. There are other proposals in the pipeline that could provide more affordable housing as well, she added.
The final draft of the plan changes the required percentage of affordable housing in new developments from 13 percent to 18 percent, but the goal, albeit an ambitious one, is to provide 30 percent affordable housing within the study area, Mercurio said. Thirteen percent is currently required for any project containing more than 10 units with a variance, which represents most projects along the Washington Street corridor. “We feel like we can get to 30 percent. That is our goal… 30 percent is ambitious, but the city is committed to it,” Mercurio said. However, 25 percent might be a more likely and attainable target, she said.
PLAN: JP/Rox has gotten pushback from various groups in the community. City Life/Vida Urbana is requesting “stronger requirements for affordability from developers, land banking in the JP/Rox area for affordable housing development, an increase in city funding for affordability, and the passage of the #JustCause4Eviction ordinance,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
Keep It 100% for Egleston is seeking at least 70 percent affordable housing within the study area and is calling for the BRA and Department of Neighborhood Development to present a different plan.
Community feedback has also included requests to reevaluate the plan’s proposed height maximums, by which buildings could reach as high as 155 feet, or up to 15 stories, in high-density areas like Jackson Square and Forest Hills. The Stonybrook Neighborhood Association sent a letter to the BRA offering its members specific concerns about the plan, according to the Jamaica Plain Gazette, including questioning whether current infrastructure can support the number of units proposed for that area. Some residents have called for height levels more in line with existing two- and three-story buildings to mesh with the surrounding neighborhoods.
Other PLAN: JP/Rox Proposals
As proposed, the Plan: JP/Rox draft calls for changing the Green Street study area from an industrial zoning district to a neighborhood shopping district in response to community feedback requesting a more active Green Street. The change would allow for retail stores and restaurants on the ground floor of buildings, but would not change the maximum allowed height or density in this area.
The English High School study area is currently in a local industrial zone. The plan calls for changing it to a community facility zone, which would allow for residential units to be built atop industrial or commercial properties, in recognition that certain industrial businesses do not produce the harmful chemicals and smoke often associated with former industrial areas.
Mercurio says the BRA is taking all of the community feedback into account in finalizing PLAN: JP/Rox. It is not only the BRA working on the plan, she said, but also the Boston Housing Authority, community development corporations, private developers and other groups.
“These are guiding recommendations. We will ask every single developer to read and review the plan before proposing a project and keep it in mind,” Mercurio said. “We’ve done more than we anticipated for housing recommendations. It’s become a very strong plan for this area to protect people and businesses.”