Official WalkUP Roslindale Comment Letter – 32 Cummins Highway

Rendering of Proposed 32 Cummins Highway Project

Rendering of Proposed 32 Cummins Highway Project

Yesterday, we sent a comment letter to the Zoning Board of Appeal (technically the “Boston Board of Appeal” under the statute) on a proposed development less than a block from Roslindale Square on Cummins HighwayThe project is a 9-unit residential building with 12 off-street parking spaces. While we generally supported the requested zoning relief and appreciate the architectural design and walkability features like secure bicycle storage, we would also to see this and other projects do more to provide affordable units (none are promised here) as well as better support for walkability and enabling a car-free lifestyle. More details on this below.

We hope many of you will agree with some if not all of the points made below. Either way, however, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.

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Community Meeting on 43 Lochdale Road, 42 units, rescheduled to Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 6:30pm at Roslindale Community Center

A couple of weeks back, a community meeting on a proposed 42-unit residential project at 43 Lochdale Road (off Washington Street, near Forest Hills) was postponed at the last minute. The meeting has just been rescheduled for Thursday, May 25, 2017, at 6:30pm at the Roslindale Community Center (6 Cummins Highway). You can take a look at the thoughts we shared back in April; in brief, while housing is desperately needed around Boston, especially near transit hubs like this location, we would very much like to see the developers of this project better consider walkability and transit access given the density and location of the project. More free parking necessarily means more cars and traffic; instead, we’d like to see investment in walking and bicycling infrastructure (as well as complementary amenities like Hubway and ZipCar), to make sure it is as easy as possible for residents to live car-free so close to the orange line. Please sure your thoughts in the comments here, and attend the community meeting on May 25!

A brief recap of the abutters’ meeting on 874-878 South Street (South/Walter)

We brought everyone’s attention to this meeting about a week ago and gave our thoughts about ways the revised 9-unit, 18-space proposal could be improved, based largely on the reaction from the group at the LANA meeting earlier in the month. Seems like the development team was listening.

And now to our report, very briefly: This was, all in all, a downright cordial meeting, well run by Dan Murphy from the Mayor’s ONS. I would say that the overall sense in the room was:

  • that 9 residential units was more or less going to work for this location,
  • that at 13 the number of parking spaces seemed tight to some and more than ample to others (your correspondent felt it was more than necessary, didn’t take full advantage of the location’s close proximity to the Commuter Rail/Roslindale Square/Washington Street Bus Corridor, and would both drive up the cost of the units and encourage more vehicular traffic), and
  • that the reduction in vehicle spaces was allowing for bicycle parking for 13 bicycles and some buffering green space between the surface parking and the property to the rear.

Certainly some attention still needs to be paid to the overall design, which feels too by-the-book (and from not that great a book), and the vehicular access could use some thinking about how to better manage the exiting and entering of vehicles. The discussion at the end focused on further process – it sounds like the developer will file revised plans with ISD soon and start the Board of Appeal’s zoning relief process, which will likely take on the order of 3 to 6 months to get through, to be followed by BPDA Design Review. WalkUP Roslindale will look to submit a comment letter in connection with the Board of Appeal hearing. We will share it when we have it ready. In the meantime, thoughts are more than welcome in the comments.

Reminder – 874-878 South Street Community Meeting This Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 6:30pm at the Roslindale Community Center

Just a reminder that the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services is holding a community meeting this Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 6:30pm at the Roslindale Community Center (6 Cummins Highway) regarding a proposed development at 874-878 South Street (near the intersection with Walter). Details:

874 South Street (Currently)

874 South Street (Currently)

874-878 South Street Installment 2 – Finally back with revised proposal for public consideration – 6:30 pm, 28 March 2017, at the RCC

874 South Street Meeting Flyer

874 South Street Meeting Flyer

It’s been almost 2 years, but the 874-878 South Street proposal that was the subject of a WUR long-form blog post in July 2015 is finally returning with a revised proposal.

The meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 28, at 6:30 pm at the Roslindale Community Center. Flyer for meeting here.

Based on what was said by the property owner and his attorney at the LANA meeting a week or so ago, it sounds like the proposal will be for 9 residential units with 18 off-street parking spaces. For those keeping score at home, that’s a reduction from the original proposal of 6 residential units and an increase of 3 off-street parking spaces. Revised plans were not available at the LANA meeting, though they will reportedly be available this coming Tuesday.

For the record, I continue to live 2 blocks from this location. From my own perspective and given this location within walking distance of the commuter rail station and Roslindale Square, the revised unit count is lower than it should be and the number of off-street parking spaces is at least 4 spaces too many. I would really prefer a 1-to-1 space to unit ratio at this location. While I recognize some neighbors see this issue differently, on-street parking issues at this location and along the stretch of South Street and the intersecting streets toward the commuter rail are relatively minimal, except on Sunday mornings. Increasing the parking space count here may prevent there ever being an issue from this development related to on-street parking, but it will tend to increase vehicle traffic by encouraging car ownership by development residents and, to the extent automatically included with each unit, will increase the cost of each unit in the development. Accordingly, in addition to wanting to see the revised design, I will be interested in a discussion of the parking space count, how the revised plans locate those spaces on the site, what kind of space is left over, and how much consideration is or isn’t being given to bicycle parking and encouraging bicycling and walking as well as zipcar and transit use.

The Community Preservation Act: Yes! on 5

Yes!Most public and media attention to the questions that will appear on our ballots next Tuesday has focused on questions 1 through 4. But for WalkUP Rozzie and many allied organizations, Question 5 has the greatest impact potential. We need your help in spreading the word (both via social media and in the real world)!

On November 8th, Boston voters have the opportunity to secure a lasting investment for local parks and open space, historic preservation, and affordable housing. The Community Preservation Act (CPA), which will appear as Question #5 on the ballot, is your opportunity to improve quality of life in Boston by helping the city:

  • Build and improve parks, playgrounds, trails, and gardens – including greenways that make up the Emerald Network
  • Acquire land to protect water quality and reduce climate change impacts
  • Restore and preserve historic buildings, and rehabilitate underutilized resources
  • Create thousands of new, affordable homes for seniors, families, and veterans

Currently, too many people in Boston lack adequate access to parklands and open space. WalkUP Roslindale strongly believes that safe, enjoyable streets, parks, and neighborhoods should not be a privilege afforded to some, but a right guaranteed to all. It’s time to invest in a better, more equitable Boston.

Through CPA, the City of Boston has an opportunity to generate over $20 million every year in dedicated funding to create and improve parks, restore historic sites, and build new affordable homes throughout Boston’s neighborhoods.

Thanks to our friends at Livable Streets Alliance for help with this copy. See also the Yes on 5 website and this well-written column from Adrian Walker at the Boston Globe in support of the measure.

Of YIMBYs and Widespread Nonconformity

The Boston Globe’s editors got this one right: Obama’s YIMBY Moment. The whole thing is worth reading, but one data point about the recently proposed downzoning of a swath of Cambridgeport really stands out:

…over the years some residents have persuaded the city to tighten zoning rules to the point that their own neighborhoods could never be rebuilt the same way. The Riverside area had previously been downzoned to the point that 59 percent of existing buildings break the rules, according to the city’s Community Development Department; under the new restrictions, a full 80 percent of existing buildings would be nonconforming.

Got that? The proposed downzoning would have resulted in 80% of the existing built fabric in the neighborhood being rendered nonconforming — allowed to remain, but disfavored and not allowed to be expanded or built anew without zoning relief — in a sense, illegal. This is particularly striking because the proponents of the downzoning claimed that it was directed at preserving neighborhood character. The linked blog piece at “break the rules” calls out the illogic of this position fairly well:

The most specious of the petitioners’ arguments, however, is the idea of preserving “character”. They have happily actually defined what they mean: single family homes. But the slightest examination of the neighborhood dashes that idea to pieces. The area of the proposed change is a pleasing mix of styles, heights, types, ages and uses. Yes, there are a few single family homes, but there are also triple-deckers, brick apartment buildings, row houses, a complex belonging to the Cambridge Housing Authority, mixed-use buildings, schools, churches and parks. Hardly any two buildings are alike.

 

Making Riverside into an exclusive country club will only line the pockets of homeowners and prevent people from moving in and improving the neighborhood with their individual touches and styles. With its transit accessibility, walkability and a population already going car-free, Riverside is the perfect neighborhood for new, parking-free apartments and homes.

The “exclusive country club” phrasing is a bit hyperbolic. But there is certainly a disconnect at work — essentially, the downzoning’s proponents are seeking to “preserve” their neighborhood by making it more illegal than it unfortunately already is. It would be tempting to be amused by what is being attempted in Cambridgeport if our neighborhood hadn’t already done essentially the same thing to itself about a decade ago. Indeed, here’s the relevant excerpt from my own comment on a now-dormant proposal for 14 units in a “Local Commercial” zoning subdistrict at Walter/South about 15 months ago:

An additional concern raised in opposition to the project was that the LC zoning from which so many variances would be required is part of a neighborhood-wide Roslindale strategic planning/rezoning effort that was completed in 2007. Accordingly, to paraphrase how the argument went, there should be no deviating from that zoning because it reflects the neighborhood’s established preference, which was, it is said, to (1) preserve the existing density and character of this LC subdistrict and, more importantly, the surrounding 2F-5000 (“Two Family-5000 Square Feet”) residential subdistrict, and (2) channel development like this project to the commercial district in Roslindale Square.

 

The Fundamental Disconnect of Our Current Zoning

 

Focusing first on the 2F-5000 residential subdistrict in which all of the Longfellow Area except the LC subdistrict has been zoned, it is critical to realize that “2F-5000” is itself a misnomer. When you look at the dimensional table for this subdistrict under Article 67 (the Roslindale Neighborhood Article), it’s actually a minimum of 5000 square feet (SF) in lot size for the first dwelling unit, and then a further 3000 SF for the second unit. So, it’s really a “1F-5000/2F-8000” zone. Now, consider for a moment that the most common lot size in the neighborhood is actually closer to 4500-4800 SF in area. For example, the lot for my single-family house is 4600 SF in area, and the lot sizes for the existing 2 families on my street are 4900 SF, 4340 SF, 5150 SF, and 4600 SF. In other words, the zoning that was adopted in 2007 means the majority of us are non-conforming at the most basic level.

 

This is not insignificant since any infill development (think of the scattered “double-lots,” many of which don’t meet the 5000 SF threshold) would have to meet this ill-fitting standard, and non-conformity applies also to additional dimensional aspects of the typical developed lot in the neighborhood, such as side yard widths (required to be 10 feet on both sides for detached structures – my house and every house on my block has at least one side yard that is narrower than 10 feet – most houses in the subdistrict do), rear yard setbacks, FAR, you pretty much name it. In addition, the parking requirement is 2 off-street spaces per unit throughout the entire Roslindale district (not just the 2F-5000 zone), with only limited exceptions right in Roslindale Square and for affordable units. I have a single space on my lot. Several of my neighbors have 1 space or no spaces at all. Overall, then, the zoning for our neighborhood, ostensibly meant to “preserve” us, actually treats us, with few exceptions, as legally not within the vision of what the neighborhood “should” be. In practice, this means that the existing zoning requires almost any change in the neighborhood’s built environment to go through the zoning relief process.

 

An object lesson in exactly this issue was in fact given at Monday night’s meeting. The first item on the agenda was a single-family home owner on Walter Street who was before LANA to seek support (or at least non-opposition) for his proposal to add a dormer to the upper story of his house to allow for a second full bathroom. He needed relief because the existing house, which appeared to be similar to almost every other house in the Longfellow Area, is non-conforming and the dormer would exacerbate that non-conformity. Thankfully for him, he appears to get along well enough with his immediate neighbors that this small change is not an issue. But the question has to be asked as to what kind of land use regulatory system would routinely require this level of process for such a small change?

 

The same mismatch of the current zoning with existing use and development, let alone what we might want, occurs in the LC subdistrict in which the South Street project is proposed to be located. The most obvious mismatch is the 0.5 FAR, with which I suspect none of the properties currently comply and which, if it were really to be complied with, represents a fundamentally dispersed, low-density suburban vision for this area. Furthermore, if the saving proposition of the rezoning was supposed to be that Roslindale Square was rezoned to accept more development, that didn’t actually happen. The two projects that have been done – the 3-story commercial building that replaced the old abandoned gas station, and the substation/funeral home redevelopment – both required zoning relief in the form of variances. In other words, the zoning for the square was so good that it had to be varied from to do two projects that the community wanted. Should they also have been told that the zoning was relatively new and they would have to live with it?

 

To summarize, we have what amounts to “zoning by variance” and it has been quite effective at slowing the pace of change. That may have worked in a period when Boston’s population was declining or remaining flat. It does not and cannot work when population is increasing, as it is today and appears poised to do for the foreseeable future. This is why the Mayor’s housing plan is so important to support and why Imagine Boston 2030, the citywide planning process that is just now getting going, is to important. We can no longer afford to treat any part of Roslindale as totally off limits to change, as if there were a growth boundary around the square and that is it. The square is great, but it can be better for everyone, and it won’t be better unless we welcome new neighbors within walking distance of its amenities.

Trivializing headline and narrative, but read the article – Somerville should be a model for Boston once ImagineBoston 2030’s work is done

Somerville eyes zoning code to match its hip reputation

It’s turning out to be a long process, but what Somerville is proposing and will likely soon adopt is truly nothing less than a radical reform of the rules governing buildings and their uses. And our city should follow suit as soon as ImagineBoston 2030‘s work is done and we are ready to embark on the hard work that will be required to recast our zoning code in a way that fits the city we actually have and love already and the ways in which we want to make it better. I’ve personally blogged here about the fundamental mismatch between even our neighborhood’s relatively new zoning article and the real thing as it exists on the ground. But the graphic in the middle of the article that shows that there are exactly 22 out of Somerville’s almost 12,000 residential lots that are fully conforming to their current zoning code is mind-blowing.

Think about that for a minute — almost the entire urban fabric of Somerville’s existing residential neighborhoods is outlawed.

I very strongly suspect that the results would be almost identical in our neighborhood and you couldn’t build Roslindale or any neighborhood in Boston as it exists today by following the letter of the zoning that is currently in place. Speaking for myself, I love where I live and want the regulations that govern buildings and uses in my neighborhood to reflect a due respect for what we collectively have by making it the rule instead of the exception.

Roslindale’s Visiting Uhü

UHU Coming SoonWhat does your mind conjure when you hear the phrase “tiny house” or “micro-apartment”? As housing prices continue to climb in major cities, Boston has not been spared. Trying to achieve balance between creating enough housing while ensuring affordability is a difficult task, and one that no city has solved perfectly quite yet.

Here in Boston, the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab is seeking answers to those questions with their newly built Urban Housing Unit, or uhü (pronounced “yoo-hoo”) for short. The uhü is a 385 square foot prefab that is fully furnished. It will travel to neighborhoods throughout Boston for the remainder of this year to spark conversation amongst residents about the palatability of smaller space living.

The uhü just arrived in Roslindale at the upper lot of the MBTA commuter rail station on Conway St and installation will be complete tomorrow, August 16th.

WalkUP Roslindale supports creative solutions to our housing crisis, and believes smartly-designed increased density is an important ingredient to a vital, walkable neighborhood. We are happy to see the city start to think “outside the box” on ways to advance housing (or perhaps “inside the box” is more appropriate in this particular case), but we also believe that land use innovation must be linked with transportation innovation and investment lest efforts to build a sustainable, livable city fail or, worse, backfire. If we are going to accommodate micro-apartments like the uhü, it must be in parallel with a strong push for safer walking and biking infrastructure, as well as better transit options in Roslindale and throughout Boston. At this point, Boston’s modest experiments in the transportation realm lag progress in housing, and we’d like to see them catch up. A final critical element to smaller private spaces is richer, vibrant common spaces–including both open space/play space and a variety of walkable commercial/retail amenities.

This is a great opportunity to discuss what implications units like the uhü could have on our city. We encourage Roslindale residents to stop by and chat with team members from the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab to share thoughts.

Events will be held at the uhü on:

  • Thurs, August 18th, 2016 from 5:00pm-8:00p for Family Night
  • Saturday, August 20th, 2016 from 9:00aa-1:00pm during the Roslindale Farmers Market
  • Thurs, August 25th, 2016 from 5:00pm-8:00pm for a community celebration

Spread the word!

UHU Flyer (PDF)

UHU Facebook Page