By Michael Coughlin Jr.
After releasing the complete draft document of PLAN: East Boston, titled “East Boston Tomorrow,” the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) provided an overview of the draft during a public meeting on September 12.
The complete draft, which is over 170 pages, is a culmination of work and public engagement that dates back to 2018.
“It’s a big deal. For those of you who have participated in this process since the very beginning, we thank you sincerely for your patience in getting to this point,” said Kristina Ricco, a Senior Planner with the BPDA.
In this document, recommendations are mainly focused on aspects such as land use and built form, as well as transportation and public realm considerations. Additionally, these recommendations are organized by what the BPDA coins “character areas.”
These character areas include neighborhood residential areas, squares and corridors, and waterfront and evolving industrial areas.
Ricco explained the focus of the recommendations for each aforementioned character area.
Concerning neighborhood residential areas, some focuses include guiding infill development to be more predictable, scaled appropriately, and aligned with overarching planning goals.
As for transportation and public realm recommendations in this area, they focus on quality of life and safe transitions from major corridors.
Regarding squares and corridors, Ricco said, “Recommendations for land use and built form focused on leveraging these places as opportunities for transit-oriented development and prioritized active ground floor uses supported by a higher density of people and businesses.”
“Recommendations for transportation and public realm improvements focused on squares and corridors as important points of gathering and connection within the neighborhood,” she added.
Finally, concerning waterfront and evolving industrial areas, Ricco explained, “Planning for the future of these areas prioritized increasing public access to the waterfront and implementing resilience infrastructure and supporting essential economic activity.”
Regarding how this looks in the document, each character area has its own dedicated chapter. Each chapter begins similarly in that they have a context page, with a general description of the character area, and then pages with key recommendations for land use and built form, and transportation and public realm.
Moreover, the chapters also contain pages that focus on specific recommendations for specific subareas identified in the document.
For example, a key recommendation for land use and built form in the neighborhood residential areas chapter is to “Allow for a mix of housing types within a limited range and affirm the physical characteristics that define lowscale neighborhood fabric,” per the document.
Then, later in the chapter, particular subareas in the neighborhood have specific land use and built form recommendations. For example, per the draft, the Maverick Central area currently has a multifamily residential zoning subdistrict and two 3F-2,000 zoning subdistricts.
These subdistricts currently allow for a maximum of three stories; however, a land use and built form recommendation specific to the Maverick Central area is that these subdistricts would be combined into one residential subdistrict, allowing buildings up to five stories.
In addition to the overarching and subarea-specific recommendations for all three characters, the document also contains policy considerations.
Describing the policy considerations, Ricco said, “These recommendations apply to the entire area, meaning that they’re not specific to any one character area, and they sometimes reach out even further than the neighborhood.”
While the BPDA team gave an overview of the complete draft, it also reviewed how recommendations would be implemented if the plan was approved.
In order to implement the land use and built form recommendations, amendments would be made to the neighborhood’s zoning, specifically Article 53.
“These recommendations include updates to the neighborhood’s subdistrict boundaries, use and dimensional tables, as well as the text of Article 53, the neighborhood’s zoning article,” said Cyrus Miceli of the BPDA’s Zoning Reform team.
Further, these amendments would be done in a phased approach, first with neighborhood residential, waterfront, and economic development areas. The other phase would focus on squares and corridors and “transition” districts but would be done through city-wide zoning reform in the future.
Regarding changes to residential zoning, the number of subdistricts would be consolidated. So, instead of having subdistricts like 1F-4000 or 2F-2000, the neighborhood would have three subdistricts — East Boston Residential (EBR) one, two, and three.
EBR-1 allows for a maximum of two units and two and a half stories, and EBR-2 allows for a maximum of three units and three stories. Finally, EBR-3 allows for four-plus units and four stories.
It should be noted that EBR-2 also allows buildings up to six units if lots have a width greater than 50 feet.
In addition to this consolidation, the BPDA proposes simplifying dimensional requirements for these subdistricts above.
“Gone will be requirements such as maximum FAR (floor area ratio) and minimum lot size, lot width, and useable open space, and in their place, more variable form-based elements,” said Miceli.
Some of these form-based elements include a maximum building footprint, minimum permeable surface area, maximum building depth, width, floorplate size, and more.
Other proposed residential zoning changes include allowing retail uses on corner lots up to 3,000 square feet, eliminating the off-street parking requirement for residential buildings with three or fewer units, and lowering the off-street parking requirements for residential buildings with four or more units to one space per unit.
The BPDA is also proposing amendments to zoning for waterfront areas. The subdistricts for waterfront areas would be consolidated into two: waterfront mixed-use and waterfront economic.
There were also proposed updates to the neighborhood’s economic development areas (EDAs), including adding two new EDAs — Porter and Bremen Street.
To view all the proposed changes regarding zoning amendments, you can view a zoning fact sheet on the PLAN: East Boston webpage.
Following a detailed description of how land use and built form recommendations would be implemented, Nick Schmidt, a Transportation Planner with the BPDA, reviewed how transportation and public realm recommendations would be implemented.
Schmidt explained that recommendations in these areas, which could focus on things like street design or green infrastructure, are simply recommendations. Essentially, these recommendations would need to go through a project development process and get funding in order to become capital projects.
Further, Schmidt explained that these capital projects could be funded publicly, privately, or both and that there are opportunities for publicly funded projects at the city, regional, state, and federal levels.
Schmidt also identified that private developments could be leveraged to provide public realm and transportation improvements through mitigation.
However, when reading up on some of the transportation and public realm recommendations in the draft plan, keep this statement from Schmidt in mind.
“Many of these recommendations would require additional community engagement and continued stakeholder coordination and review,” said Schmidt.
While he identified that things like repaving, sidewalk and curb replacements, and speed hump installation do not have formal engagement, he added, “More impactful changes, like street circulation changes, changes to curbs or curbside uses or even changes to transit services would involve more detailed project development processes beyond the scope of PLAN: East Boston itself.”
Following the presentation, residents had the opportunity to ask questions and provide comments about the draft plan for just over an hour.
Regarding next steps, the public comment period for the draft plan is open until October 27. In the meantime, the BPDA will be holding virtual office hours on September 26 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Also, during this meeting, Jason Ruggiero, a Community Engagement Manager with the BPDA, confirmed that the agency would be in attendance at a meeting put together by the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council and the Harbor View Neighborhood Association to discuss the plan scheduled for October 3 at 6:15 p.m. at the Madonna Shrine Function Room on Orient Avenue.
To find the draft plan in its entirety, the recording and presentation from this meeting, and to leave comments about the plan, you can visit the PLAN: East Boston webpage at https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/plan-east-boston.
Hard copies of the draft plan can be found at the East Boston Public Library, the East Boston Senior Center, and the East Boston Social Center.