The Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab (part of New Urban Mechanics) recently put out a “request for information” (or RFI) regarding housing with public assets–a public process intended to “allow the city to explore new ideas without committing resources to a particular concept.” Specifically, the City is interesting in improving its core city assets–libraries, fire stations, community centers, and municipal parking lots–to help address the housing crisis and make a dent in the goal of adding 53,000 new units of housing in Boston by 2030.
The City of Boston owns hundreds of parcels of land and hundreds of buildings that could play in a significant role in achieving this goal. Among these is the Taft Hill parking lot right in Roslindale Square. From our “Walkable Urban Place” perspective, the lot has several attractive features: it is literally yards away from our main street shopping district that would be enhanced by greater density of residents who would frequent the shops on foot, and the only location closer to the commuter rail station is the commuter rail lot itself. Moreover, we’d like to see more land dedicated to housing people and businesses, rather than serving as dead “free” car-storage all day. We are thus quite interested in helping lead dialogue with the city on this idea.
On the other hand, we’ve seen several smaller developments in recent years in and around Roslindale which have gradually increased population and density. While we’ve generally applauded this increase in housing supply, the inescapable fact is that the City has done far more on housing than on transportation, and unless we change course immediately, the lack of meaningful coordination between transportation and land use will take a real toll on livability and likely engender strident community opposition to any further development. In short, Boston can and should accommodate 100,000 new residents, but not 50,000 new cars.
To that end, we’ve sent the letter below to respond to the City’s RFI on developing the Taft Hill lot. The focus here is not any specific development proposal for the lot–a process which is still some a ways off, but rather an urgent call to arms to start putting the right sustainable transportation pieces in place now, so that when it comes time to evaluate specific development proposals, we will have some assurance that these will enhance the neighborhood’s walkability and vitality and not result in increased gridlock, pollution, and harm to the pedestrian environment.
If you share our concerns and our vision, be sure to reach out to all the officials listed below and let them know!
Architectural rendering of proposed 874-878 South Street development (right side)
This week we sent a comment letter on a proposed residential project at 874-878 South Street, located at the “corner of South Street and South Street”–across from Green T Coffee Shop and adjacent the Hong Kong 888 Cafe, where South Street becomes Walter Street and turns into South Street. We’ve covered this development before in this space, going back at least as far as our first round of feedback back in July 2015, and the latest plans were circulated at an abutter meeting in March. We are typically aligned with “YIMBY” groups and inclined to support residential development, because density both promotes walkability and creates more desperately needing housing opportunities.
Our eagerness to support development is neither unlimited nor uncritical, however. In the case of this project, WalkUP is withholding support for the zoning relief requested by the developer based on a design that is sorely lacking. We are likely to get only one crack at each of these new buildings in our lifetimes, so it behooves us to get it right. We are hopeful that the developer will take our constructive criticism to heart and improve the proposed designed before its zoning appeal hearing, which is likely to be scheduled in October. We’ll post updates here as we get them, either on the design or the hearing date. In the meantime, our full comments are below and also available as the PDF letter as submitted to the Board of Appeal.
UPDATE 4/18/17 2:30pm: we just received word that this meeting has been postponed. We’ll provide updated details on this blog as soon as we know the new date.
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.
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.
We 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 , 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.
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.
20 Taft Hill Rendering
Today, we sent another comment letter
on a proposed development in Roslindale Square. The project is a 19-unit condominium complex a few yards away from the commuter rail station and the business district. Because we believe this sort of transit-oriented development will contribute to a more walkable and vibrant neighborhood, and particularly in view of some of the developer’s creative pro-WalkUP proposal elements (dedicated bicycle storage, car-share service credits, and support for the Roslindale Arboretum Gateway Path initiative
), we generally support the project. There is still room for improvement, however, as detailed in our full comment letter 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.
Umbrella Not Causing Rain
Notable economics writer Matt Yglesias provides a pithy analysis of the relationship between housing prices and construction in his newsletter published today. Yglesias writes:
I observed on Twitter the other day that there’s a shockingly widespread belief that banning new construction will prevent increases in the price of housing, and that lead to some pushback that was more interesting than I’d anticipated and is worth addressing specifically.
Umbrellas don’t cause rain
But before getting into the specific points, I do think it’s worth focusing on the core fallacy that drives some of this. People look around and see that in neighborhoods where prices are going up, there’s generally highly visible new construction — cranes putting up largish buildings — and think the construction is driving neighborhood change.
This is a bit like thinking that umbrellas cause rain because every time you see everyone carrying them it rains.
Construction — especially of high-rise buildings — is expensive and people are only going to do it in places where demand is high and prices are on the rise. By the same token, brand-new construction commands a price premium so the just-built thing always targets a more upscale market than the average neighborhood resident. Your city’s stock of cheaper housing consists almost exclusively used to be new but aren’t anymore. But the presence of new expensive buildings isn’t making older buildings more expensive. It’s the fact that older buildings are getting more expensive that leads people to build new buildings.
Yglesias then goes on to explain why banning new projects won’t achieve the goal of preserving a neighborhood’s character or preventing gentrification and the rise in housing costs.
As we engage as a community to debate construction proposals in and around Roslindale, we would be well advised to keep this insight in mind.
WBUR reports today on a Metropolitan Area Planning Council presentation to state lawmakers on the dire need for housing supply to sustain the economy:
By 2040, Massachusetts will need about half a million additional residential units, analysts told lawmakers Tuesday as they advocated for increased housing production to go along with the state’s growing economy.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council assistant data services director Tim Reardon said most of this housing demand will be in urban areas, and two-thirds of it will be for multifamily housing, a type of development limited or discouraged in much of the state.
We recognize that development to accommodate new residents is often a controversial topic — in Roslindale and just about everywhere else in Greater Boston. Even where people recognize the crisis in general, they would much prefer that the solution happen somewhere else. But the need is there and the development will happen whether we like or not.
We do, however, have a critical choice to make: are we going to add another million cars to our already fully maxed out transportation infrastructure (2 cars per new housing unit) — another three or four million free parking spaces? An extra hour (or two) added to the car commute downtown from inner ring suburbs?
Or we can go in another direction, and build with a dedicated focus on pedestrian/bike/transit access, and enhance all those other modes of moving around so that people who prefer not to be stuck in a motor vehicle for hours a day aren’t forced to.
Development, walkability, and vibrant streets and communities all can go hand-and-hand. Rather than fight to stop every new project, we believe we should speak up to make every new project better for the community. We’re working on some development principles that we think will advance this goal, and hope our neighbors will join us in refining and then advancing those principles.