Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Holding Special Meeting on JP/Rox Plan

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Jamaica Plain's Neighborhood Council will be discussing the JP/Rox plan on Wednesday. It will be a special meeting through the council's Housing and Community Development Committee.

The public meeting on Wednesday June 22, 2016, at the Farnsworth House (90 South St.) at 7 pm.

This meeting is being held in the wake of the June 1 decision by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to extend the JP/Rox plan process into September. The BRA will not take a vote on the plan until October it said in a letter sent to the 26-member JP/Rox plan advisory group. The letter was signed by Brian Golden, director of the BRA, and Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development.

Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council President Kevin Moloney said the council wanted the meeting to occur in part because it wants more involvement in the plan. Six members of the 26-person JP/Rox Plan Advisory Committee are expected to attend the meeting: Alvin Shiggs, Carolyn Royce, Dan Thomas, Rosalyn Elder, Sarah Horsley and Yamilet Torres. The Advisory Committee met on June 8 to review and discuss the 3-month extension.

The extension granted by the BRA is in direct response to great concerns about the draft plan first revealed at the March 5 workshop. The height and density proposed for Egleston, Jackson and Forest Hills caught many participants by surprise; Few anticipated a district up to 15-story buildings on Amory Street or Forest Hills.

BRA senior architect John Dalzell said on March 5 that, "We've listened to you. Now it's time to respond to you with your ideas."

Particularly some residents from Egleston Square felt battle scarred after not being able to reduce the size and scale of 3200 Washington St. Egleston Square residents were some of the strongest voices to repeatedly call for a Washington Street planning study to avoid larger and taller development projects.

The Stony Brook Neighborhood Association agreed to a 6-story apartment complex after being told there would be new parkland and a reduction to three stories on the Burnett Street side.

The JP/Rox Plan staff met with the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association (ESNA) at its regular March 28 meeting to review the draft plan. Concerns of the proposed scale and density of the draft were discussed in the context of the present neighborhood scale. The draft did not reflect the character of the neighborhood said ESNA members.

Affordability goals and the threats of displacement were big concerns.

The BRA's response to affordability (defined as 70% of metropolitan Boston median income) was to use the new inclusionary development policy that required 13% affordability in any development and also offered specific cash incentives and the proposed density bonus that provided cash incentives if units are kept at 50% metro AMI (area median income).

The BRA has put emphasis on the theory that more housing will lower rents and home ownership prices. Supporters of the 3353 Washington St. development raised this theory during the April 28 public meeting.

The JP/Rox draft plan states that 30% of all new housing starts would be guaranteed affordable at 70% metro AMI. Most JP/Rox plan workshop participants accept this percentage.

Yet this puts the responsibility of providing affordable units completely in the hands of developers who often adjust their market rate units accordingly, thus driving up rents.

But deep subsidies and rental vouchers -- the only two financial packages that can guarantee rents at 30% metro AMI, strongly advocated by the left wing of JP/Rox  plan participants -- cannot be put into the zoning regulations.

To the chagrin of many, the BRA made few changes in the draft plan when it returned to the community on May 11. Height and density barely changed. The Amory, Jackson Square and Forest Hills tall districts remained.

It was at the rambunctious May 11 workshop that the demand to halt the JP/Rox planning process surfaced: advocates felt rushed; they wanted the year-long process to stop and allow for more community review, discussion and to reconvene in September.

On May 27, the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association sent a letter BRA Director Brian Golden on behalf of five neighborhood associations requested that the BRA not vote on the JP/Rox Plan "until the following tasks are complete."

  1. A comprehensive design guidelines including height, set backs, parking and open space
  2. A clear definition of the boundaries of where these zoning changes are proposed
  3. A clear plan of how to increase affordability goals for all new housing including a detailed financial analysis
  4. A plan for stabilization including an analysis of direct and indirect displacement
  5. Good job standards
  6. How the plan will guide zoning

The letter concludes that the BRA board should not vote on new zoning before October 2016. The BRA listened and incorporated many of the concerns in a four-point commitment for a plan that directly addresses gentrification and displacement. The letter said in part, "We will do all we can to minimize displacement."

In its June 1 letter the BRA acknowledged that affordability and neighborhood stabilization are an integral part of, and inevitably impacted, by new zoning. Maximizing overall affordable housing through zoning was one commitment by the BRA letter.

The issue of affordable housing and stabilization of the housing market is a very serious issue, one that first Mayor Marty Walsh spoke about in his January State of the City address. In that speech he announced the establishment of the Office of Housing Stabilization. The office will open by July 1 when the new fiscal year begins and be a resource to the questions of affordability and stabilization.