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

4 Minutes for Walkability — What is it, how is it achieved, and what’s it good for?

If you have time to click on this link at grist:

The key to fighting climate change and mortality? Walkable cities.

read the intro, and then watch the short video — I believe that’s a 4 minute time commitment in total — you’ll find it worth your while. An excellent summary of what makes a place walkable, how it’s achieved, and what it’s good for. Enjoy and then get out there and get to it!

Dante Ramos hit the nail on the head here

It’s been a crazy week, but I am glad to have a few minutes to commend to WalkUP Rozzie Nation a rather perceptive opinion piece by Dante Ramos in last Sunday’s Globe. In “Give Boston better zoning – just not yet,” Dante works in a St. Augustine reference while describing the interesting extended transition period that we are now seeing as far as regulation of development goes around here. My top two money quotes:

First, as to the widespread nature of the disconnect between the city we’ve been zoned for and the one we actually have:

From West Roxbury to the harbor, in reasonable cases and in potentially problematic ones, developers are seeking relief from land-use rules and other limits. Existing zoning in Boston was designed to be restrictive — partly out of fears of new development and partly to give the city leverage over builders — but the current rules haven’t always kept up with the times.

And second, how we find a way forward while new, better regulations are formulated in the midst of a massive building boom generated, for the first time in decades, not just by a kind of real estate musical chairs but by real population growth:

Until the city has more workable land-use rules, it needs a clearer, more explicit theory to justify the exceptions that it grants. Personally, I’d argue that, in deciding how much leeway to grant developers, the city should be dovish on height and density, assiduous about promoting attractive design and climate-change readiness, and hawkish about lively street life, retail diversity, and the public realm. (That’s especially true in the Seaport — where there are lots of sit-down restaurants but almost nowhere to buy a pack of gum or a pair of jeans.)

I think I like Dante’s formulation (and he’s right about the Seaport), but with the major caveat that I think the de facto development policy is to be found in Housing a Changing City, the housing forecast that the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development released in the fall of 2014. In that report, it was made abundantly clear that housing production had to speed up – a lot – if the city was to build the 53,000 new units by 2030 needed to keep some kind of pace with the rather new phenomenon of significant population growth in Boston. I think it’s accurate to say that the Walsh Administration has taken that imperative very seriously and has acted on it and will be acting on it for some time to come.

Taft Hill Project Approved by Zoning Board of Appeal

20 Taft Hill Rendering

20 Taft Hill Rendering

We’ve discussed the proposed Taft Hill development several times here and we support the project. This afternoon, the proposal, which requires numerous zoning variances (among others, the project provides 1.0 rather than the required 2.0 parking spaces per unit), was heard by the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal and unanimously approved. Several WalkUP Roslindale members spoke in favor of the project, as did representatives from the offices of the Mayor, City Councillor Michelle Wu, and City Councillor Tim McCarthy. No one at the hearing opposed the project. We expect the developer to break ground this spring.

Welcome to Parkside on Adams

ros2.jpgWe were happy to learn today that Parkside on Adams is finally open with tenants moving in, and welcome these new Roslindalians with open arms.

This development brings badly needed rental housing, including some affordable units, to the central business direct. While we dream of improved walkability everywhere in the neighborhood, from East Roslindale to Metropolitan Hill to the Longfellow Area and beyond, the area adjacent Adams Park and the core business area is particularly critical for increased density, walkability, and hence vitality.

One notable bit from yesterday’s news story: “Parking is an extra $125 a month.” This may be the first instance of “unbundled” parking in a new Roslindale development and we hope to see more: if developers provide “free” parking as an amenity with residential units, (1) those units will necessarily be less affordable; and (2) purchasers or renters will be motivated and incentivized to own a car (and thus use it) since they’ve already effectively paid for it. By allowing parking to be purchased/rented separately (and by the month), this development gives new residents the option to do what makes most sense for them. Rather than pay $125/month for parking, the new resident can put the same money toward transit: $75/month for an MBTA LinkPass[1] , with $50 left over for Uber, Lyft, and/or bicycle maintenance, not to mention the substantially greater monthly savings in insurance, excise tax, gas, maintenance, etc.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Along these lines, we’d love to see the Commuter Rail pass from Roslindale closer in price to the LinkPass, to further encourage a more pedestrian-oriented and less car-centric neighborhood.

Taft Hill Park Proposal Takes a Step Forward

20 Taft Hill Rendering

20 Taft Hill Rendering

We blogged about the proposal for 19 new residential units on Taft Hill Park (directly adjacent to the city’s public parking lot) a couple of months ago, shortly before the BRA’s public meeting on the developer’s small project review application. And we followed that up with a letter during the comment period. Just this week, small project review concluded with the BRA Board’s approval at their meeting on Thursday, along with five other projects indicative of the current pace of development in Boston. In WalkUP Roslindale’s view, this is the right result. In our comment letter, we expressed overall support for the location and the thoughtful way the developer was taking advantage of the highly transit-accessible and walkable location, while offering our suggestions on certain aspects of the developer’s proposal. The next step for the proposal will be to proceed with the process for obtaining the zoning relief (specifically, variances) needed under the zoning code. This will likely mean another community meeting and then the required hearing before the Board of Appeal. We will continue to follow the proposal and how our suggestions are ultimately responded to. Look for updates here as this proposal continues to work its way through the review and approval process.

WalkUP Roslindale in the News – 100 Weld Street Approved

100 Weld Street RenderingWe’ve posted multiple times about the proposed development at 100 Weld Street, which recently won approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The project could have been better–we would have especially liked to see more mixed use (i.e. retail) and a more progressive approach to parking–but on balance we supported the proposal because it should revitalize vacant space, benefit the business district, and help with the housing crisis. Earlier this month, the Roslindale Bulletin ran a feature on the BRA approval, quoting our own Matt Lawlor. The full article is reproduced below.

Continue reading