At Contentious Meeting, BPDA Board Approves PLAN: JP/ROX

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Boston Police removed several protestors during the Boston Planning & Development Agency's board meeting Thursday, March 2, prior to the board approving PLAN: JP/ROX, a set of guidelines that will direct future development and improvements to the corridor that connects Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.

After 50 public meetings, several draft plans and a number of delays, the BPDA's board approved the plan, with a study area that encompasses Forest Hills, Egleston Square and Jackson Square, generally bounded by Washington Street, Columbus Avenue and Amory Street, and which is aimed at addressing housing, jobs and business, transportation, land use and urban design.

But vocal opposition to the plan throughout the process has continually focused on preventing displacement while promoting affordable housing. About 10 protestors were removed by police during the board meeting at the request of BPDA Board Chairman Timothy Burke, BPD Officer Rachel McGuire told Jamaica Plain News. The protestors were not arrested. BPD personnel also video recorded the meeting to preserve the scene, which is commonplace when police interact with protestors, McGuire said.

In addition to the protests at the meeting, numerous individuals also participated in a nearly 48-hour-long peaceful sit-in at Mayor Marty Walsh's office in the days leading up to the Thursday afternoon meeting.

The plan's stated goal is for approximately 40 percent of future development to be affordable, which would double the existing affordable housing stock in the study area, according to the BPDA. The BPDA also says that 30 percent of the existing housing stock is income-restricted (about 1,000 units), and approximately 15 percent of households in the study area face an elevated risk of displacement (which translates to 381 households in market-rate rental housing that make less than $75,000 a year).

But many people feel the plan does not adequately recognize residents who make far less than $75,000.

“We were ready and willing to put ourselves on the line today,” said Modesto Sanchez after the meeting, according to Spare Change News. Sanchez said he is a former JP resident of Egleston Square, but higher rents forced him to move. “Most of the people who live in Egleston make between $20,000 and $35,000 a year. Their plan would still change the face of the neighborhood and erase the culture that’s there now.”

The plan uses several housing strategies to focus on affordability, including the creation of more affordable units and market units in order to take pressure off existing affordable units. It also establishes anti-displacement measures for existing residents, as well as pathways to home ownership.

District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson, whose district includes Egleston Square and has declared his intention to run for mayor of Boston, spoke at the board meeting against the plan.

“You say it’s an affordable unit, but you know based on your own numbers that people in that neighborhood and community can’t actually live in that neighborhood and community in affordable units,” said Jackson, according to Boston Magazine. “When it comes down to it, you have an opportunity in this red-hot market to do better for our neighborhoods, to do better for the people who love Boston.”

Jackson also tweeted, "I'm not anti-development, I am antiz (sic) displacement of residents. If we actually planned in Boston we could actually address this."

In terms of supporting independent and small businesses, the plan encourages ongoing work with the city's Small Business Development Department, as well as small business training, retention and technical assistance.

The plan's transportation component looks to address existing traffic flow challenges, and the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) is working on a capital budget request for an action plan in the study area for the upcoming fiscal year.

An often-heard request during any discussion of development in Jamaica Plain is retaining the character of the neighborhood. To some residents, that means not building developments taller than four or five stories. Those notions run contrary to the high-rise zones of the plan, one at Jackson Square and the other at Forest Hills MBTA Station. Located in areas with new buildings, these new zones would allow heights up to 15 stories. Many residents did support taller buildings being included of the plan.

As with any large project in Boston, the Article 80 Community Review Process remains applicable, which helps "to ensure sensitive and creative building and site design." The plan also includes supporting progressive green building and resiliency standards that require healthy, carbon-free, climate-change-ready buildings and infrastructure.

Click here for more PLAN: JP/ROX coverage from Jamaica Plain News.