Thinking about the proposed project at 100 Weld and Boston’s inclusionary development policy

The former Weld American gas/service station at the corner of Weld and Centre may be zoned within the West Roxbury Neighborhood District, but by virtually any other known geographic listing it’s in Roslindale. After a prior redevelopment proposal failed a few years ago, it looks like the current proposal – now dubbed “100 Weld” and including 17 condominium units and a Centre Street-facing exercise/office space for residents with 26 accessory off-street parking spaces – is going to thread the needle and be that rare exception to the general rule that nothing worth doing is ever done under the Boston Zoning Code without needing zoning relief (i.e., either variances or, at the very least, a conditional use permit). This is not to say that the proposed development program and design don’t leave a few things to be desired — they do, and WalkUP Roslindale intends to submit a written comment letter about them to the BRA by the September 10 deadline. Among other things, I predict we’ll focus on the missed opportunity for retail to encourage vitality at this location, the need for well-designed and landscaped frontages on Weld and Centre, how the time has ever more obviously come to have a real discussion about the impact that required off-street parking has on the cost and shape of new development, and how this intersection and the mixed residential/commercial node here could use streetscape/motorway improvements beyond just at this project’s front door onto Centre. Overall, though, the project deserves to go forward. The neighborhhood has lived with this vacant parcel long enough.

Another issue that this project raises is the fundamental inadequacy of the city’s inclusionary development policy (IDP). This is the policy adopted over a decade ago by mayoral executive order under which the city requires residential projects of 10 units or more that require zoning relief (variances or conditional use permit) to set aside a number of units equal to 15% of the market rate units for households earning within a set series of ranges related to area median income, depending on whether a particular project is rental or homeownership, with a buyout option. I’ve italicized “that require zoning relief” because that’s where the rub comes on 100 Weld and where the city is going to need to figure out a new way forward. 100 Weld had a couple of pre-filing meetings in the spring at which alternative schemes were presented for a few more units that would have required variances and thus a few affordable units. Whatever the reason, the developer has elected to reduce the number of units and thus has come forward with a scheme that can be done as-of-right, with no zoning relief. As a result, the project no longer triggers the IDP and so there will be no affordable units in this project.

Going forward, there clearly seems to be a need to rethink the IDP and potentially make it apply to all projects with a minimum number of residential units, regardless of whether they require zoning relief. One would fully expect this to be part of the ImagineBoston process. But the pace of the current boom argues for putting in an interim policy that plugs this gap, especially if the city’s ultimate intent with the planning process is to right-size our zoning code for the task ahead of us and make a much greater share of worthwhile projects able to proceed without zoning relief. To be continued.