The Boston Redevelopment Authority is seeking to codify a series of community recommendations to guide current and future development along the South Huntington Avenue Corridor.
“We decided to take these guidelines and translate them as codifying text amendments” to the zoning code, said Marie Mercurio, a senior planner at the BRA, during the authority’s Feb. 11 meeting.
The Boston Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear the proposed zoning code amendments this, Wednesday, March 9.
The study area in question extends from Perkins Street to Huntington Avenue, and is divided into three precincts, Mercurio said, "because we noticed several distinctions in scale and use along the avenue”:
Precinct 1, from Huntington Avenue to Heath Street, is characterized by three-story brick row houses.
Precinct 2, from Heath Street to Bynner Street, is characterized by large institutional uses: The VA hospital, the Sherrill House and the Goddard House.
Precinct 3, from Bynner Street to Perkins Street, is characterized by three- to four-story multi-family housing, and is also a transition area to the Hyde Square business district.
The zoning code amendments approved Feb. 11 and recommended to the city’s Zoning Commission are as follows:
Uses: The addition of ground-floor retail, commercial and food service to increase pedestrian activity.
Floor area ratio: The ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the piece of land on which it’s built would increase from 2 to 3, particularly in Precinct 1.
Height and setbacks: On the western side of South Huntington, building height could increase from four to six stories, particularly in the middle of the study area from Heath Street to the Goddard House. For six-story buildings, setbacks would increase to 30 feet.
Historical preservation and transportation: On the western side of South Huntington, new buildings should connect to the Emerald Necklace parks and other parts of the public realm, including transit stops, sidewalks and crosswalks, to increase overall safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Mercurio acknowledged that development pressures, and certain buildings shifting from institutional to residential uses, jumpstarted the initial corridor study and the development of these recommendations. In late 2012, the Zoning Board of Appeals' unanimous approval of the 196-unit development Olmsted Place at 161 South Huntington Ave. garnered strong responses by some community members.
"We need to have a better idea of what this street should look like and be like in the next five to 10 years," Kairos Shen, then-director of planning for the BRA, told Boston.com at the time. "The goal of this study is to give the community and the development community a clearer idea of what the city and the community's expectation should be for any new development. … We're interested in developing a set of guidelines that I can recommend to the board, the director and the mayor."
The study of the ¾-mile-long stretch from Perkins Street to Huntington Avenue resulted in a 44-page document, “Framework for Future Development of South Huntington Avenue,” which was approved by the BRA board on May 16. 2013. But these were just a "unified set of development guidelines for the review of projects,” not formal zoning requirements. Last year, the BRA decided that these guidelines should be added to the zoning code for Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill, and held two community meetings to discuss this change.
At the meeting in February at which the recommendations were reviewed, BRA board member Carol Downs questioned whether the plan might already be out of date, given that several large projects have been developed since it was completed.
For instance, in June 2013, one month after the South Huntington Corridor Framework was approved, the BRA board approved 105 South Huntington, a 13-story tower, which was vastly larger than the six stories recommended in the zoning changes. (Cedar Valley Development LLC, which is building the tower, is expected to contribute money toward street improvements, as well as to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.) Construction began in December 2015.
John "Tad" Read, the BRA’s acting director of planning, stressed that the city is keenly aware of the intense development along the study area, and is striving to stay ahead of the curve through several planning processes, such as the ongoing JP/Rox corridor study.
Mercurio noted that Goddard House is undergoing community review and has done “an excellent job in referring to the document.”
But there is more work to do, Mercurio acknowledged. “What does the VA Hospital have up its sleeve? The MSPCA?"
The new zoning will be tested by the latest development submitted to the BRA Jan. 28 for 35 South Huntington Ave. Developers are planning a five- to six-story building on a narrow site on the west side of South Huntington dominated by three-story brick row houses built in 1910. The submission received largely positive support at a Feb. 9 community meeting.