BPDA Outlines New Interim Planning Overlay District

Last Thursday at the Mario Umana Academy the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s Kristina Ricco outlined the city’s proposed Interim Planning Overlay District, or IPOD, for East Boston.

Boston Planning and Development
Agency’s Kristina Ricco during Eastie’s Interim Planning Overlay District meeting.

According to Ricco city officials will submit the IPOD plan to the BPDA on Oct. 11 for approval. If the BPDA board approves the IPOD it will be sent to the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for formal approval.

Ricco said the IPOD plan will encompass all of Eastie with the exception of Suffolk Downs and the Airport and will effectively end so called ‘as of right’ projects.

“The IPOD does not change current zoning so if there are aspects of current zoning you do not agree with this will not change that,” said Ricco at last week’s meeting. “However, what the IPOD does do is send all projects above the defined threshold to the ZBA for approval.”

The city has set this threshold at 1,000 sq. ft. What this means is that any resident or developer looking to erect a building or add an addition that is 1,000 sq. ft. or more will now have to go through the same community process as larger development projects.

“All the projects above the new defined threshold will have to go to the ZBA,” said Ricco. “These projects will be subjected to the same process like abutters meetings, community group meeting and ZBA hearings. This will not stop development but there will be no such thing as an ‘as of right’ project once the new IPOD goes into effect.”

Aside from erecting a structure that is 1,000 sq. ft. or more or adding an addition that is above the threshold, projects that alter or change the exterior of any building that is perceptively different will also be subjected to the community and ZBA process.

“We are not trying to capture residents that are adding a small addition onto their home or something like a kitchen, but people will have to sign an affidavit for those projects stating that they will not approach or exceed the 1,000 sq. ft. threshold,” said Ricco.

The city and neighborhood is currently trying to create a new Master Plan and change some of the community’s outdated zoning. Ricco said while that process may take months if not years the IPOD gives a little extra protection to the community while new zoning for Eastie is figured out.

“The IPOD is just one step in adopting new zoning for the neighborhood,” said Ricco. “Once the IPOD is in effect it will stay in effect until new zoning is adopted. Once new zoning is adopted for the neighborhood the IPOD will be retired.”

The IPOD is part of Mayor Martin Walsh’s new directive “PLAN: East Boston Neighborhood Planning Initiative”,

Over the summer Mayor Martin Walsh announced Eastie was chosen as one of five neighborhoods that will be part of the BPDA’s planning initiative as part of an Imagine Boston 2030-guided effort to ‘preserve, enhance and grow’ the neighborhood.

The city plans to work closely with Eastie community groups, community leaders and other stakeholders to ensure decisions made by the city are following the guiding principles of “preserves wisely, enhances equitably, and grows inclusively”.

As part of the initiative in Eastie a comprehensive planning will include a focus on balancing contextually sensitive development alongside preservation. There will also be a focus on supporting existing residents and businesses through increased access to opportunity, affordability strategies, and anti-displacement policies.

One of the highlights in Eastie will be improving the public realm and access to open space and neighborhood-serving amenities, addressing mobility challenges, and supporting neighborhood resiliency and preparing for climate change.

The city will work with the community in Eastie’s half dozen enclaves with a focus on the neighborhoods that are facing increased development pressures. Working with the community the city will determine a shared vision for the future of the neighborhood. Community discussion will focus on preservation of the existing residential fabric, enhancement of the vitality of existing residential communities and businesses, anti-displacement strategies for residents and businesses, connectivity along the waterfront, mobility, and flood protection and climate resiliency.

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