Letter: 15-Story Towers Don’t Fit With Nearby Parklands

The following letter was submitted by Jamaica Plain resident Henry Barbaro.

The JP/ROX Plan, which was finalized a few weeks ago by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), recommends that 15-story residential towers be allowed at the Arborway Bus Yard across from the Forest Hills MBTA Station. Towers sited on this parcel would constitute a permanent eyesore to an area surrounded by historic open spaces — the Arnold Arboretum, founded in 1872 by Harvard University; Forest Hills Cemetery, established in 1848; and Franklin Park, established in 1885, which is the city’s largest tract of parkland and is the crown jewel of Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace.

The plan to encroach upon the viewsheds of these open spaces should not be shrugged off by JP residents. Not only is this proposed zoning opposed by the JP Neighborhood Council, but it also contradicts one of the JP/ROX Plan’s objectives — to enhance existing open spaces. This is a critical objective because the plan also recommends zoning that will increase the housing density between Forest Hills and Jackson Square by a whopping 60 percent, with no new open spaces proposed. It adds insult to injury to allow towers next to JP’s most historic and beautiful areas.

If the city must have transit-oriented development, then the proposed zoning near MBTA stations should also fit into the context of the area, rather than have it simply allow for the largest buildings. It’s reasonable for the Plan to recommend zoning for multi-unit residential buildings, to capitalize on their proximity to mass transit, but not at heights that clash with the surroundings. Of course, the rationale for 15-story buildings ultimately comes down to profit incentives for developers.

The BPDA board should amend the JP/ROX Plan to better protect the legacy and beauty of this area on behalf of everyone for the foreseeable future. The board meets March 2 at Boston City Hall to vote on whether to adopt the plan. Then, some months later, the Boston Zoning Commission will likely vote on changing the city’s zoning to reflect the plan.

The Arboretum, Forest Hills Cemetery and Franklin Park are three of Boston’s most significant historic open spaces, providing recreation, enjoyment and solace to residents and tourists alike. By proposing zoning where towers will be allowed to loom over these beautiful open spaces, the BPDA has demonstrated a callous disregard for the area’s existing and future residents. Furthermore, to construct tall buildings in this location would be a blemish on Mayor Walsh’s campaign to increase housing densities throughout Boston.

Editor’s note: According to the BPDA, the JP/ROX Plan recommends zoning that will increase the housing density between Forest Hills and Jackson Square by 40 percent, based on 2010 Census numbers regarding permitted and planned/envisioned units.

  • Hugo_JP

    The Arborway Bus Yard does not abut the Arboretum, FH Cemetery nor Franklin Park, in fact its about 1/4 mile or more from any of those green spaces.
    A tall building at the MBTA bus yard will not ruin any vista or encroach on the green space – but if the vista is a concern then perhaps we should demand the Pru Center be torn down, because I can see the Pru from the Arboretum hilltop when looking towards Boston.

    • Lisa Marie Garver

      Don’t have a heart attack, HUGO, but I’m actually with you on this one. HA. 15 stories is pretty intense. Have you seen that weird, round tall complex in Egleston Proper? It’s def an “eyesore” as they say but kind of an interesting one. I think if we MUST have 15 stories though, that this is the place to put it because there really isn’t much but space over there. I would much rather have that than tearing down buildings that already exist over in Stony Brook or Union/Bartlett Square. We have somewhat tall buildings and it does take away the light.

      That said the emerald necklace goes right through there as I have walked from Forest Hills to Green st many times along that bit of green. I don’t think its about “views” as much as the fact that it’s changging the culture and environment. We all love that JP feels homey and that nearly everyone can belong. A big tall building is drastically urban, but I guess we don’t have much room for comprimise. Some people are adament about mass market rate housing that they want to come in because they are looking for a release in demand. Others are concerned about minorities and low-income residents, all of which are families/students/activists/and or artists, that make JP one of the most diverse neighborhoods in boston. Others yet are concerned more about the way things “look” rather than how they “feel” because they don’t want “ugly buildings” that are “cheaply made”.

      All in all, developers will make a huge profit off our modest hood and thats why everyones shooken. I hope some day we can all laugh about this.

      • Seamusisnotagoat

        I think someone else said it here before, but it was so poetic and appropriate I think it bears repeating: “you’re exhausting”.

        • Lisa Marie Garver

          uhm.. okay. so either leave me alone and move on OR get some damn coffee and try to keep up. Peace :/

          • tom brady

            when you were young, did you done fall and bump your head?

    • silverccl

      Excuse me but, if you cross Arborway/Morton Street at Forest Hills & walk over to the West Roxbury Court House, you are essentially at The Forest Hills Cemetery. To press your point, Sir, if you hang a left, walk down to the rotary, you will have reached the Forest Hills Cemetery. You may not, literally, have entered it but as the hawk flies, (between Jamaica Pond, The Arnold Arboretum or even The Blue Hills,) you will have achieved The Cemetery. Not a quarter of a mile, I am thinking, AND on the other side of the road at that rotary, is Franklin Park. The Arboretum is also AT Forest Hills station, I am sure you are aware.

  • GoatWatch

    This is so classic NIMBY there should be a VH1 special about it.

    I don’t think a new high-density building would be a “blemish” on Walsh’s plan to add more high-density buildings.

    It’s not like Mr. Burns is coming to block out the sun on your whole town. We’re not even talking about a building yet. We’re talking about zoning that would allow for a new building. The argument here is based on aesthetic grounds, so maybe wait for something to be proposed and then critique the aesthetic merits of it. This pre-emptive backlash to a nonexistent proposal ultimately makes your (inevitable) objections to any future building less credible.

    Personally I think the new Prius is really ugly but you don’t see me complaining that they’re driving down our roads and ruining the aesthetic of our neighborhood. I don’t clutch my pearls just because something doesn’t appease every one of my senses.

    For every Henry there are a hundred people who would like to see more investment in our community. Why doesn’t the JP news give equal space for both sides to share their views?

    Henry needs to chill out and chew on some grass for a while. That’s what I do when I’m stressed out.

    Something something goat.

    • Eli

      I concur – my read of this author’s conclusion is, in essence, “to do X would be a blemish on Mayor Walsh’s plans to do X.” Sure, I suppose there could be other ways to increase density without building tall buildings, e.g. micro-units, but even those come at a substantial cost.

    • silverccl

      Unfortunately, GW, residents of Boston have learned over the years that zoning is just the beginning of a long, painful process which almost always culminates in a large, damaging development. In my opinion, it is not enough to wait all that time & see what happens. One cannot reasonably expect to be notified of every submission to the ZBA, every application filed with Inspectional Services, every visit by inspectors or every permit granted. One cannot keep up with every aspect of ‘any future building’ or ‘nonexistent proposal[s]’ unless it is one’s full time job. But if we are conscientious in advance, we are able to make clear our feelings about large scale construction projects. JP has old roads, never meant to take the kind of traffic they do now, never mind additional vehicles; Centre Street was laid out in the 18th century, the Jamaicaway & Washington Street are stressed & much more needs achieving before any premature zoning can be approached. In my view, zoning should be the last step taken.

      • GoatWatch

        I, too, like to put my underwear on after my pants, and my socks after my shoes.

        In all seriousness, of course zoning is the first step in improving an area. The Plan JPRox takes into account more than just new construction. The point of it is that there will be streetscape improvements, new housing, and better transportation access. You can’t just do that stuff a-la-carte. When the overpass was taken down, the site in question became viable as a really good location for housing due to it’s proximity to the T. They already did the streetscape improvement part over there, now its time to take advantage of the improvements and bring in more residents.

        Additionally, I would disagree fundamentally with your characterization of development as almost always “painful” and “damaging”.

        Yes, JP has narrow roads (though really no more narrow than anywhere else in the city,) but the purpose of zoning for this site is that it is transit oriented, meaning the draw of living there is access to the T, not access to major roads. Would you prefer we go back to using a horse and buggy? Why even allow people to live in JP? It used to be just wild animals. #MakeJPGoatAgain.

        If we can build more housing for people who will not use the roads, but rather the more environmentally friendly and congestion reducing public transit system.

        If you are an abutter of the property being developed, you receive a notice about public meetings. I’ve received a couple of such notices over the years.

        If you’re opposed to making changes to that neighborhood, perhaps we should just build a new overpass. Problem solved, nothing is changed and everyone is happy, right? Let’s just keep everything exactly the way it is.

        • silverccl

          GoatWatch: One tihing if you don’t mind my asking: When you are so busy being more intelligent than I , disrespectful to boot, do you ever get laid?

          • GoatWatch

            I’m glad you agree I’m being more intelligent than you.

        • silverccl

          It appears that you are privy to information that I am not, GW. I had no idea that, upon signing their leases, people moving in to a ‘tower’ at Forest Hills would also sign an agreement ‘not [to] use the roads, but rather the more environmentally friendly and congestion reducing public transit system.’ Or, perhaps, an agreement to sell their vehicles & go without, entirely.

          ZONING CODE: CITY OF BOSTON:
          ‘Section 1-2. – Purpose.
          The purposes of this code are hereby declared to be: to promote the health, safety, convenience, morals and welfare of the inhabitants of the City; to encourage the most appropriate use of land throughout the City; to prevent overcrowding of land; to conserve the value of land and buildings; to lessen congestion in the streets; to avoid undue concentration of population; to provide adequate light and air; to secure safety from fire, panic and other dangers; to facilitate adequate provision for transportation, water, sewerage, schools, parks and other public requirements; and to preserve and increase the amenities of the City.’
          I do not object to ‘bringing in more residents,’ as you say, provided the process is considered & ‘avoid[s] undue concentration of population.’ Further, that population should be carefully selected with respect to income & whose oversight shall that be? Shall there be tax credit units included in the project? What ratio? I have seen nothing so far that will ensure compliance with the most basic ‘purposes’ of zoning.
          With respect to your underwear & socks, I have no comment other than to say: I have seen you, around.

  • Eric Herot

    Think about it this way: A 15 story building on the Arborway yard (which, lets face it, is probably not going to be redeveloped in your lifetime or mine) would allow ~200 additional families to live within walking distance of the park. To me this sounds like a prime example of “enhancing existing open spaces” by making them accessible to more people.

  • Eric Herot

    “Of course, the rationale for 15-story buildings ultimately comes down to profit incentives for developers.”

    No, it doesn’t. There aren’t even developers advocating for this (yet). It’s about housing and our desire to provide enough of it so that nobody has to leave JP that doesn’t want to.

    • Vlad Richey

      I second this. In fact, most private developers are unlikely to be very interested in building 12-15 stories, as it would be incredibly costly to build.

      The reason most of the private proposals coming through the neighborhood now top out at 5-6 stories is that anything above that requires “high rise” construction and building codes. This can add 30-50% to cost the build per square foot. This may make sense downtown, where prices are high enough to support that. But in JP, even the current prices that everyone loves to complain about are not enough to justify that kind of increase in cost. This creates an economic cap (rather than a zoning cap) on how high private developments will be built.

      The groups who get helped most by zoning up to 15 stories are public and non-profit builders, who are less concerned with maximizing bottom lines and more concerned with maximizing the amount of housing available to the community.

      • silverccl

        I must respectfully disagree, Mr Richey. The Jamaica Plain community has a long history of organizing against the invasion of our neighborhood by developers. Chiefly, we argue against so called ‘high rise’ buildings because they block air, light & space. We have lost a little ground over the years but not a lot. This is how we have remained unique & desirable to so many developers! (In fact, there are those of us who can feel developers breathing down our collective necks all the time.) Current rents or condo prices more than justify, in my opinion, projected construction costs & approval of this proposal would see any number of interested parties responding. If anything, why not invite bids for joint ventures with more lower buildings around substantial green space? Why the ‘tower’ concept?

  • Monster

    Discuss: Isn’t the Jamaicaway Tower pretty ugly and out-of-place looking?

    • silverccl

      Yuh. Check out the history, some time, of THAT legendary contribution to JP ‘housing stock!’ To those recommending demolition of The Prudential, John Hancock & other buildings above 10 storeys, why follow poor planning with more poor planning? Why adhere to historically inadequate zoning with absent canvassing & hit or miss community meetings? We are talking about ‘ … zoning that will increase the housing density between Forest Hills and Jackson Square by … 60 percent.’ Sixty percent along that corridor. That doesn’t strike you as a proposal which will place an unfair burden on people already residing there? But one ‘… with no new open spaces proposed?’ What’s up with that? Who do you envision living in these new units? Not families for in that case, intelligent planning might include a park with some swings, slides & a sand box. So… sounds to me like more housing for young, single people who can actually afford this proposed, eminently ‘affordable’ address. In my opinion, this will change the character of the neighborhood at the expense of air, light & integrity. (Perfectly all right with me if you would like to discuss demolition of our unique City Hall, however. Any time, any place.)

      • Marty

        silverccl, I’m with you. It seems that the people who generally comment in this venue do it to defend new construction no matter what and view any opposition as NIMByism, leftism, and a whole lot of bull-isms. I feel that they don’t represent regular people but those who are going to benefit directly from more buildup. The density in our neighborhoods is getting ridiculous and it’s affecting the best that Jamaica Plain had to offer which is greenery and open spaces. It would be nice for the old trolley yard to be cleaned up but what about a park that would serve as a gateway to the gorgeous cemetery and to Franklin park? The park could have a dog park which is sorely needed for dog owners – BTW, I don’t own a dog. Density is not the answer to the housing crisis. We should be concerned about quality of life for those of us who are already here and have stuck it out all these years when it wasn’t considered such a desirable place for some people.