Feedback and Data Discussed at PLAN Advisory Group Meeting

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

On September 19, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) met with its PLAN: East Boston Advisory Group to discuss the complete draft of the plan — “East Boston Tomorrow” — released at the beginning of the month.

As part of this meeting, BPDA staff went through an overview of the draft similar to the September 12 public meeting. You can visit the PLAN: East Boston webpage to view that meeting and the presentation.

In addition to the overview, BPDA staff revealed some feedback they had already heard on the draft and presented some data concerning that feedback and from other requests.

“We had the public meeting on the 12th; there was a lot of discussion at that meeting. Some people have taken the time to already submit their comments in writing to us, and we had some outstanding data requests from even before the public meeting,” said Kristina Ricco, a Senior Planner with the BPDA.

One significant item fostered a lot of conversation, and it came from a data request concerning how many parcels in the proposed East Boston Residential (EBR)-2 subdistrict have a width greater than or equal to 50 feet.

The data showed that of the 1,043 parcels sampled, 340 are greater than or equal to 50 feet wide. This is an important data point to consider because, in the draft plan, the EBR-2 subdistrict would allow for buildings with six units for parcels with a width greater than or equal to 50 feet.

However, the issue with this, as pointed out by an attendee at this meeting, is that the BPDA has advertised as recently as its September 12 public meeting that six units would be allowed in the subdistrict for lots greater than 50 feet in width — not greater than or equal to 50 feet.

“In every single meeting, including the meeting the other night on the 12th and every single presentation except for one, it says more than 50 feet wide, greater than 50 feet wide and, when it’s been explained to the neighborhood, it’s been greater than 50 feet wide,” said the attendee. 

Ricco explained that this was not meant to be a change and chalked it up as a semantics issue.

“When we say sideyard setbacks are five feet or greater, it includes the number five, and so, I think, from a practical perspective, we always meant that greater than 50 feet included the number 50 because 50 feet and one inch is greater than 50 feet,” said Ricco.

Even with Ricco’s explanation, the attendee still strongly requested that the plan reflect greater than 50 feet by increasing the number to 51 or 55 feet.

“I don’t think there’s any understanding in this community at all that single and two-family homes would all of a sudden be eligible to have six units and potentially an ADU (additional dwelling unit) on top of it. That is not a discussion we’ve had,” said the attendee.

In addition to data being provided from requests, data was also presented that coincided with feedback the BPDA has heard about the plan.

One item of feedback that the BPDA shared was requests to reduce the allowed building depth in the EBR-1 subdistricts.

The proposed subdistrict, currently the lowest-density residential district, presently has a proposed allowed building depth of 50 feet. However, there has been a request to lower that to 40 feet.

Ricco explained that there is a target non-conformity number of 20%, and in an analysis of 384 buildings, mainly in the EBR-1 subdistrict at the top of Orient Heights Hill, it was revealed that 133 buildings have a depth greater than or equal to 50 feet.

“37% already sort of exceeds our target non-conformity of 20%,” said Ricco.

Additionally, Ricco explained that if the BPDA dropped the allowed building depth to 40 feet, the target non-conformity in this area would be raised to 62%.

It should be noted that this analysis could not be performed in all EBR-1 subdistricts because it was measured by hand, according to Ricco.

Another piece of feedback the BPDA has gotten was to reduce the proposed total allowed gross floor area in EBR-1 subdistricts from 5,000 square feet to 4,000.

Similarly to the previous feedback, an analysis was done. However, this feedback was analyzed through assessing data rather than by hand. Also, this analysis could be performed on a wider area, which included all EBR-1 subdistricts.

Of the 658 parcels sampled, 145, or 22%, have buildings with greater than or equal to 5,000 square feet. Whereas 271, or 41%, of the parcels have buildings with greater than or equal to 4,000 square feet.

Ricco explained, “We are right at the target non-conformity for GFA (gross floor area) if we left that number at 5,000 square feet.”

Additionally, there were some requests for the EBR-3 subdistrict. First, there was feedback to change the EBR-3 subdistrict boundary regulating Orient Heights Boston Housing Authority property to remove parcels along Faywood Avenue.

Another request was to change the boundary of the EBR-3 subdistrict along Marginal Street to remove properties east of the Shipyard.

While much of the feedback presented at the meeting focused on the neighborhood residential areas chapter, Nick Schmidt, a Transportation Planner, reviewed some feedback on the plan’s squares and corridors section.

Although Schmidt indicated that most of the recommendations in this section have been well-received, he did acknowledge there have been questions about the Bennington Street recommendations.

“Our stance on that is, yeah, of course, there’s definitely traffic on Bennington Street, but even back in our 2019 analysis, we’ve felt that it was well within the road diet, going down from four lanes to like two or three,” said Schmidt.

“It’s within the range, in terms of traffic volumes, that it could work,” he added before also saying that if the recommendations for Bennington Street were to become a project, an updated analysis would be done.

For the remainder of the meeting, those in attendance provided feedback and asked questions, a lot of which dealt with transportation recommendations. Some topics included leveraging the use of the ferry, the price disparity between tolls and fares for other forms of transportation, and much more.

It is important to note that although the BPDA has started getting feedback on the draft plan, there are no plans for interim changes to the draft.

According to Ricco, any changes to the plan would be consolidated and released in an update to the plan in advance of the BPDA’s public close-out meeting in November.

Currently, there is still tons of time to leave your feedback about the complete draft plan, as the comment period is open until October 27.

Also, for those in Orient Heights and Harbor View, if you want to give your feedback directly to the BPDA or learn more about the plan, you will have the opportunity to do so in person.

The Orient Heights Neighborhood Council is holding a meeting on October 3 in tandem with the Harbor View Neighborhood Association to discuss the draft plan at the Madonna Shrine Function Hall at 6:15 p.m., in which the BPDA will be in attendance.

To view the completed draft plan, leave feedback, and view past meeting material and recordings, visit the PLAN: East Boston webpage at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *