WalkUP Roslindale’s Mission and Seven Statements of Principle

WalkUP Rozzie members have been working for some time (in person and online) to distill our mission and principles. The outcome of that effort is below, and we’d love to get your thoughts! Leave a comment here or email us directly at info@nullwalkuproslindale.org. If you support our mission, please sign up as a supporter (your information will be kept confidential and you will receive only very infrequent email); follow us on Twitter; join us on Facebook; and/or sign up for our higher-volume discussion list.

This list was updated on October 6, 2015; find the original draft here.


OUR MISSION

We will make Roslindale the most walkable neighborhood in Boston, in collaboration with our neighbors. We strongly believe that walkability is a fundamental of great neighborhoods. Improving the walkability of our neighborhood will have positive impacts on public health, safety, social capital, economic development, and environmental sustainability. Although we speak only for ourselves, we seek improved walkability for everyone because we believe it will benefit everyone. In order to get there, we need to think both big and small. Immediate action is needed to improve crosswalks and sidewalks, organize events to bring people together around a shared vision for our neighborhood, encourage the calming of vehicular traffic, and demonstrate how the future might look by making temporary changes today. Long term, we must be proactive in addressing how our neighborhood evolves in the face of the regional development boom, and how walking interacts with all the other forms of getting around. A central conviction of WalkUP Roslindale is that common goals are better achieved together than separately and will provide evident and tangible benefits to all. To do this, we will seek partnerships and collaborate with our fellow residents and engage a broad array of community groups, businesses, non-profits, educational institutions, and city and state agencies to advance our mission.

SEVEN STATEMENTS OF PRINCIPLE

  1. Walking is an essential mode of travel, and we seek to promote it on its own and as part of an active transportation network along with bicycling and transit. We support public and private projects, policies, and efforts that advance the essential travel mode of walking on its own and in concert with bicycling and transit throughout Roslindale because these modes collectively increase the accessibility of our neighborhood, support local economic development, enhance the safety, livability, and functioning of the streetscape, and help mitigate the detrimental environmental effects of automobile use. We must also make our streets safe and friendly for children, the elderly, and people with mobility or sensory disabilities. We fully support the city’s adoption of Vision Zero, the policy goal to completely eliminate deaths and serious injuries from vehicular traffic on streets. And we look with eager anticipation toward working with the city on arriving at a shared vision and implementing GoBoston 2030, the city’s new comprehensive mobility plan.
  2. More residents, businesses, and people working in and visiting Roslindale will increase vitality. We support thoughtful, smart growth in residential and commercial intensity centered on key nodes in our neighborhood, particularly, Roslindale Square, Weld/Centre, Belgrade/Bellevue/WR Parkway, Washington/WR Parkway, Washington/Metropolitan, Cummins/HP Avenue, the American Legion Highway corridor, and the Forest Hills/Washington Street corridor. Compact, intense use of land is an essential component of lively and safe neighborhoods, supporting local businesses, and a regional approach to environmental sustainability.  We also support measured, careful growth in our established residential areas to sustain and improve their vitality as well.
  3. Parks and natural areas help make our neighborhood vibrant. We support balancing growth with a vision of health and beauty offered by integrating this growth into a network of green spaces, as recognized by landscape pioneers such as Frederick Law Olmsted. Roslindale has a great wealth of parks and natural areas. But we recognize that they are not evenly distributed in our neighborhood or equally well maintained, and there are many natural areas that require protection and enhancement. We support balancing the needs for housing, development, and growth with the need for places which offer opportunities for active recreation as well as refuge. These include parks, playgrounds, urban wilds, dog parks, community gardens, green corridors/greenways/parkways, and other green spaces. Support for high quality green space and a cleaner environment goes hand in hand with support for smart growth – we are convinced that these goals must be pursued together.
  4. We support development that promotes walkability. We support giving each proposed development a review on its own merits. If zoning relief (conditional use permit/variance) is needed for a development we believe advances the principles described here, then we will support granting that relief. As the city moves forward with a new comprehensive plan/rezoning process under the ImagineBoston 2030 banner, we advocate that the new plan and zoning be responsive to our neighborhood’s growing, diverse population and the ongoing housing shortage/affordability crisis throughout the city.
  5. We support mixed uses that promote walkability. We support a mutually-supportive mixing of uses within Roslindale’s key nodes: commercial (office, retail), residential, institutional, and modern industrial, among other uses, should be closely connected. We support local commercial enterprises and shops as a general matter, though each situation requires consideration on its own merits, and we should be mindful of the need for our commercial districts to have customers throughout the day, not just evenings and weekends.
  6. We support mixed housing that promotes walkability. We support mutually-supportive mixed housing types throughout all parts of our neighborhood – multifamily, 3-family, 2-family, single-family (townhouse/detached), at a range of price points, including affordable, middle income, and market rate. In major residential projects, we support going beyond the baseline 15% affordability standard the city currently uses. Many of us chose Roslindale because it is among the most diverse neighborhoods in the city by many measures, and new development should strengthen and enhance our unique cultural, ethnic, racial, linguistic, and economic mix.
  7. Contextual yet forward looking design makes for a more walkable environment. We support great design, regardless of style. Roslindale has a relatively consistent early 20th century “colonial” architectural character and set of building types (gabled rooflines, strong street walls, parking in the rear or underneath, massing that is modulated by architectural features, beloved public parks and squares), and new construction should be designed to fit within that context at its best while also being creative and forward looking in a way that embraces the 21st century. We view thoughtful and walkable urban design that connects and enhances the private and public realms as an absolute necessity.

West Roxbury/Roslindale Bulletin Coverage of WalkUP Roslindale Efforts

Roslindale Bulletin BannerIn case you missed it on the (free) newstand, the West Roxbury/Roslindale Bulletin has run a couple of features on WalkUP Rozzie so far. The first appeared in late August as a general overview of this new organization; the second ran last week, covering the recent City Council hearing on the Rozzie Urban Wild vision. Check out both articles below:

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 accommodate 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.

Design Help Wanted

Our WalkUP Roslindale team has a variety of skills, but graphic design isn’t one of them, yet! So far, we’ve relied 100% on public domain (copyright expired) and broadly-licensed Creative Commons images on our website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page. We’d love to have some more distinct and perhaps cutting edge icons and artwork. If anyone has the skills and enthusiasm to help in this area, please contact us at info@nullwalkuproslindale.org.

Longer term, we’d like to do more ambitious graphical projects, such as depicting various parts of the neighborhood with smarter pedestrian design (imagine Poplar Street as a woonerf!), similar to how the Boston Cyclists Union has worked with volunteers to generate drawings and doctored photographs to spark the imagination about what is possible. If you have the skills for this, we’d love to hear from you as well!

A rendering by Bike Union volunteer Jessi Flynn of the Bike Union’s redesign of Route 9
A rendering by Boston Cyclists Union volunteer Jessi Flynn of a redesign of Route 9
A remaining challenge will be ensuring the cycletrack reaches all the way to the intersection with the BU Bridge, as depicted here. Illustration created by a Bike Union volunteer.
An illustration of a proposed Commonwealth Ave cycletrack created by a Boston Cyclists Union volunteer

Why “Walk UP?”

The term comes from Chris Leinberger at the Brookings Institution and his most recent set of studies about the demonstrable value premium that the real estate market is attaching to “Walkable Urban Places” or “WalkUPs.” To paraphrase Leinberger’s March 2015 report on WalkUPs in the Boston region (the “WalkUP Wake Up Call – Boston” – available online here), a “Walkable Urban Place” is a place characterized by

  • Realtively high intensity of development with
  • Multiple and vertically/horizontally mixed uses (housing, office, retail, recreation, education, etc.) located in close proximity to one another,
  • Employing multiple modes of transportation (walking, bicycling, transit, and automobiles) that get people and goods to the place, and
  • Walkability once you’re there.

In other words, Roslindale Square and the neighborhood that surrounds it.

Between the Walsh Administration’s recent housing report predicting 70,000 new residents needing 53,000 new housing units of all kinds by 2030 and the increasing concentration of new development of all kinds in WalkUPs that Leinberger is forecasting, we are going to see real growth and significant development pressure in Roslindale in the next decade and a half.

WalkUP Roslindale seeks to be a gathering place for those who welcome this new wave of development but know that it has to be done right so that our neighborhood becomes even more livable. Thanks for stopping in!