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

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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.

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