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.

Boston City Council Transportation Policy Briefings

Let's talk transportation policyWe are delighted that the Boston City Council’s Committee on Parks, Recreation & Transportation has announced a series of public discussions, in partnership with Northeastern University Professor Peter G. Furth, on several critical topics. These discussions will be held in the Iannella Chamber on the 5th Floor of City Hall, and also livestreamed at http://www.cityofboston.gov/citycouncil/live.asp. Come in person to be part of the conversation, and please spread the word! Kudos to City Council President Michelle Wu for taking the major leadership role to make this happen.

  • Tues, Nov. 15th, 12-1:30pm — Low-Stress Bicycle Network
  • Tues, Dec. 6th, 4-5:30pm — Pedestrian Service and Safety
  • Thurs, Jan. 5th, 4-5:30pm — Systematic Safety — European Vision Zero Principles Applied to Boston
  • Thursday, Feb. 2nd, 4-5:30pm — Transit Signal Priority
  • Thurs, Mar. 2nd, 4-5:30pm — Parking Management

See also this flyer for these events. Questions or comments to Henry Cohen at 617-635-3115.

WalkUP Testimony at City Parking Hearing

WalkUP Rozzie Founder Matt Lawlor Testifying on Parking Before Boston City Council

WalkUP Rozzie Founder Matt Lawlor Testifying on Parking Before Boston City Council

Earlier this week, we offered testimony at a Boston City Council hearing on parking issues. Although the connection between walkability and parking policy may not be immediately obvious, because parking uses up billions of dollars of some of our most valuable urban real estate and has a substantial cascading effect on all forms of transportation, it stands at the core of any effort to move our neighborhood and our city toward walkability and sustainability.

Our comments were also sent by letter; the text is reproduced below, full version available as a PDF.

Continue reading

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!

Taft Hill Development Up Next

20 Taft Hill Rendering

20 Taft Hill Rendering

Everyone is encouraged to attend the upcoming community meeting on the proposed new development at 20 Taft Hill Park, next to the municipal parking lot just north of the Square. Per the BRA, which will be hosting the meeting, essential details are as follows:

Date: Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 pm
Location: Roslindale Community Center, corner of Washington and Cummins

Information on the proposal as submitted by the developer can be found on the BRA’s website HERE.

Basic project numbers shown there are as follows:

  • 19 residential condominium units in 2 buildings (6 units/13 units).
  • Unit mix is 2 1BRs, 15 2BRs, 2 3BRs.
  • 19 off-street parking spaces (1 per unit).
  • Bicycle storage for 34 bicycles.
  • $2,000 car-sharing service credit to each unit buyer.

Five things to consider/watch for in the meeting and in discussions over this project:

  1. Generally speaking, this is a project that fits within WalkUP Roslindale’s principles and is likely to gain our support. The location is adjacent to the square, and so walkable to its services, restaurants, shops, and transit options, and the design and program appear interested in making use of that walkability. To get the most out of this project as a neighborhood, we will want to focus much of our attention on the quality of the urban design here so that we end up with something much closer to the substation redevelopment as opposed to, for example, the redevelopment of the former Roslindale Pub site. The initial renderings suggest that this will be more like the substation, even if it is a bit of a departure from typical residential architecture in the neighborhood.
  2. According to the application, the project will require zoning relief (in this case, variances) because the site is zoned 2F-5000, a subdistrict previously discussed at this blog. Given the project’s size, it will also be subject to the city’s inclusionary development policy, also previously discussed here. That means that at a minimum 13% of the units will need to be affordable under the policy’s definition. WUR is already on record through our principles that we think this percentage is low given the scope of the need and it further doesn’t address the broader workforce housing challenge that has occupied so much of the Walsh administration’s attention and bubbled up just a couple of days ago in a slightly different context dealing with the city’s housing and jobs linkage fees. This is an issue that will need to be on the table.
  3. The developer’s decision to include bicycle parking and car-sharing credits shows a willingness to engage on encouraging active transportation in our neighborhood. To WUR, this presents the opportunity to work constructively and proactively on promoting walking, bicycling, and transit infrastructure, very much along the lines of the City’s recently released draft vision for GoBoston 2030, especially the “health”  section. New development that smartly leverages our neighborhood’s existing active transportation assets should be thinking about ways to concretely support their improvement and expansion.
  4. The 1-to-1 off-street parking ratio will be a topic of discussion and deliberation. The multiple intersecting issues that are bound up in parking were identified as needing thoughtful consideration in an early post here. Clearly, there are different sides to this issue and spillover effects on generally available on-street parking from households that own more cars than they have off-street parking spaces to put them in can have impacts. On the other hand, simply imposing a higher rate of off-street parking has multiple impacts of its own, including increasing motor vehicle traffic, taking up valuable space that could be devoted to other, more productive uses, and driving up the cost of housing to provide an “amenity” that many residents may not want. These are just a few of the considerations about parking that I’m sure will be voiced through this process.
  5. Finally, a note on process: This will be a public community meeting required as a result of the developer’s Small Project Review application. There may be more than one such meeting for this process and there will also be an accompanying written comment period that the BRA project manager will identify at the meeting. Conclusion of this BRA process with a BRA Board vote will then be followed by a process with the Board of Appeal for the variances that would almost certainly include a further public community meeting and then a hearing before the Board. In other words, there will be multiple points at which to plug into this process, be heard, and be counted.

First Official WalkUP Roslindale Comment Letter – 100 Weld Street

Sketch Plan showing WalkUP Roslindale Proposal for Weld/Centre Intersection

Sketch Plan showing WalkUP Roslindale Proposal for Weld/Centre Intersection

We’re pleased to announce WalkUP Roslindale has submitted its first comment letter, providing some feedback on the proposed 100 Weld Street development. 100 Weld has been at least a bit controversial because of its scale (17 units replacing a defunct former gas station). While the proposed development is imperfect (concerns articulated in our letter, text reproduced below), we believe on balance the increased density and revitalization of vacant space benefits Roslindale–residents and business-owners alike–and housing is sorely needed in and around Boston. See below for our complete analysis.

Continue reading

Follow up on 874-878 South Street — Installment 1 — Pre-filing community meeting

Summary

Monday’s initial pre-filing community meeting on this proposed project — as yet unnamed — is now in the books. LANA board members observed more than once that the turnout was much heavier than is typical for their summer meetings. Almost everyone (other than the LANA board and a further exception that I will discuss below) was there for this project, expressing responses ranging from approval to rejection and qualifying questions/statements in between. Renderings of the project as presented at the meeting are not available electronically. If they do become available, I will update this post.

Generally speaking, if done right, this is the right kind of project for this location and should win support from those connected with WalkUP Roslindale. It is an easy walk from the site to the Roslindale Village commuter rail station and the square with its super market/bakeries/specialty food stores/restaurants, etc., and excellent bus connections into the Orange Line at Forest Hills. After several decades of decline or stasis, Boston’s population is growing again and we need more housing units to accomodate those who want to come here. We should welcome this opportunity to both do our part for our city and to bring more people close to the center of our community and support our main business district. This is not to say that there are concerns here — they are discussed below. But my own strong inclination is to support this proposal and encourage its improvement through the upcoming small project review/zoning relief process.

The Project as Proposed

Boiled down to basics:

  • Project site is located in the LC (Local Convenience) subdistrict of the Roslindale Neighborhood District (Article 67 of the Boston Zoning Code)
  • Demolition of the existing 4 storefronts and 2-family residential at the rear
  • All existing tenants (commercial and residential) are at-will/month-to-month
  • 15 off-street parking spaces at the ground/first story level
  • 15 residential condominium units on 3 levels above (all units are 2BR/2BA, approx. 1000 square feet (SF) in area)
  • Vehicular access would be over the existing curb cut and along the existing driveway from South Street at Walter Street
  • There would be no commercial space in the project as proposed
  • Two units would be required to be affordable per the city’s inclusionary zoning policy
  • Project will undergo Boston Redevelopoment Authority (BRA) Small Project Review (for projects 15 units or more but not considered a large project — entails design review of the project)
  • Variances required from the Boston Board of Appeal (per my notes) for this proposal are for Floor Area Ratio (FAR) (ratio of building size to lot area) (approx. 2.5 vs. 0.5 allowed), building height and stories (40’8″ vs. 35′ and 4 vs. 2 1/2), side yard width (5′ v. 10′ (abutting residential subdistrict width of 10′ applies)), and parking spaces per unit (1 per unit as opposed to 2 per unit for market rate and 1.5 per unit for affordable in a project of this size)

Concerns Raised

A fairly typical range of concerns was raised at the meeting, including urban design/architectural style (flat roof, flat front, not much detailing shown), height and bulk of the structure, affordability of the market rate units and whether additional affordable units can be provided beyond the two required, potential parking impacts (raised principally by those who appeared opposed to the project, with the assertion being that despite the transit-oriented and walkable location, there would be more than 1 car per unit, so the overflow parking would have to occur on on-street parking spaces that are perceived to be scarce; there was disagreement with this perception from a number of speakers at the meeting), and how much support there was for non-auto modes of travel (e.g., bicycle parking).  I personally raised the issue of the proposed elimination of commercial space at this location, but got almost no support in the room and a response from the developer/property owner that commercial really doesn’t work at this location (I acknowledge it has been limping along for the entire time I’ve lived here, though I think a single storefront or perhaps even a live/work unit or two should still be considered).

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. This specific point was raised from the outset by Wayne Beitler during the LANA Board’s Q&A and then by Carter Wilkie in the open discussion. This is not surprising, since both Wayne and Carter were members of the advisory committee that worked with the BRA on the rezoning a decade ago. While I appreciate the hard work they did on that committee and what they have both done generally to make Roslindale a better place, it is time we had a frank discussion about what our current zoning does and does not do, and how it needs to change for the better through the upcoming Imagine Boston 2030 planning process.

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.

What comes next?

I would expect that the developer/owner comes back to a further pre-filing meeting, whether it’s before LANA again or in a stand-alone format. If they’re willing to do that and show they’re listening by making improvements to their proposal, that would go a long way toward securing the support they’ll need. If they don’t, they’ll still be coming back to the neighborhood for their small project/zoning relief public meeting(s) and we will see what they’ve heard and not heard. Beyond that, everyone connected with WalkUP Roslindale needs to pay as much attention as we can to the Imagine Boston 2030 process when it gets rolling. We can’t let the opportunity to break out of the “zoning by variance” bind pass us by.

Wondering about Conway at South: Would on-street parking on both sides help slow down speeding cars?

The photos below are looking up Conway Street from its intersection with South Street directly adjacent to the commuter rail stop. Recently, I’ve noticed that signs have gone up seeking to encourage drivers to slow down, and even more recently a crosswalk has been painted after the street was repaved. Both interventions are visible in the photos, which I took this evening on the way home. My own personal observation is that these are well-intentioned steps taken by the city and/or residents on the street to deal with a real problem — drivers at this intersection tend, far too often, to ignore the stop sign at Conway/South coming down the hill, and they drive too fast. Apropos of the title to this post, I also wonder why there’s on-street parking only on one side of Conway at this location. The paved street width here is about 26′, about the same width as Fairview Street (one block over, about 25′ in width) and, to the naked eye, most other streets on Peters Hill. I would posit that one reason there’s excessive speeding on this street is that there’s parking only on one side of the street (as opposed to Fairview and most every other street I can think of in the immediate vicinity), leaving a too-wide driving area that signals to those behind the wheel that the way has been cleared for them to comfortably exceed the default speed limit of 30 mph. I would further posit that allowing for on-street parking on both sides of the street would signal to drivers that they must proceed on this street with caution and at a rate of speed at or below that posted speed limit. With only a single lane in each direction, cars going in opposite directions on the street have to yield to each other in order to safely pass, and they must therefore drive more slowly. This is a condition that generally works quite well throughout Peters Hill and elsewhere in the city. Comments welcome, especially from Conway residents following WalkUP who may have insight on why Conway is set up this way today.

Pic 1 Pic 2

We Need to Talk About Parking

Banned in BostonA critical piece of the walkability/livability discussion is the problem of parking. Some minor flare-ups around the proposal to replace (temporarily) even one car parking space with a corral that could accommodate at least ten bikes highlights the passion and sensitivity some feel around the issue. For those who don’t have time to pore over an 800-page bestselling book on the topic (“The High Cost of Free Parking”), we’ll try to lay out piece by piece over the next few weeks why parking–and especially free parking–can be toxic to the health of a community and especially a neighborhood shopping district.

In the meantime, though, last week’s Planet Money episode “Free Parking” provides an entertaining and engaging introduction to the topic, through the prism of a parking exchange startup that originated in Baltimore and was subsequently banned in Boston. Although the story is interesting from a number of perspectives, we urge everyone to listen closely to the interview with Donald Shoup, author of the aforementioned bestseller.

Stay tuned for more.