GSCA Hosts BPDA To Discuss Plan: East Boston

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

Staff from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) joined the Gove Street Citizens Association’s (GSCA) monthly meeting last week to detail how PLAN: East Boston would impact the Gove Street area.

Kristina Ricco, a Senior Planner with the BPDA, highlighted the purpose of the planning initiative that kicked off in 2018 and had its complete draft released at the beginning of September.

“The purpose of PLAN: East Boston is really to update the neighborhood’s zoning code and make short and long-term planning level recommendations for the neighborhood’s public realm, which is primarily streets and sidewalks,” said Ricco.

In what Ricco referred to as most relevant for those in attendance at the meeting, the BPDA plans to make “modest changes” to the Gove Street area’s zoning code.

One of the first proposed changes is a boundary update on Maverick Street to zone it in a temporary bucket subdistrict called MFR/LS (Multifamily Residential/Local Shopping).

Ricco explained that this designation would treat both sides of Maverick Street similarly to how Gove Street is today. Additionally, this subdistrict prefers developments to have retail on the ground floor.

“We think that Maverick Street is essentially very different than the top of Jeffries Point or even really the core of the Gove Street area, and we are proposing to make that official with a zoning designation,” said Ricco.

Another proposed change is to retire the corridor enhancement subdistrict in the area. Ricco identified that this area contains parcels owned by the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC). With this retirement, most of the subdistrict would be turned over for open space.

However, South of Porter Street, a “special” subdistrict boundary containing sites like those owned by the EBNHC would be retained.

Ricco also pointed out another proposed zoning change in the area. The draft plan details that the residential fabric of the Gove Street area is currently governed by an MFR subdistrict that allows heights up to three stories.

However, the plan proposes to zone this area in the East Boston Residential (EBR)-3 subdistrict, allowing heights up to four stories.

Describing the change in allowed height in the area, Ricco said, “We found through our analysis that there was a lot of nonconformity and that structures — many, many structures — were actually three and a half stories already.” 

“So we felt like infill development, which is really the kind of target of our zoning changes, could reasonably accommodate a four-story building without seeming much taller than its neighbors,” she added. 

Ricco also explained that most of the area is in a Coastal Resilience Zoning Overlay District, which indicates a high vulnerability to future flooding.

This means properties that voluntarily raise the ground floor out of the flood zone would have their heights measured from the ground floor rather than the sidewalk.

“In some cases, people are going to need to raise their ground floor maybe five or six or seven feet to get it up out of the flood zone, and so a building could conceivably be 45, 46 or 47 feet, but that’s not how their height would actually be calculated,” said Ricco.

Regarding public realm improvements, Ricco highlighted recommendations to upgrade the Maverick and Sumner Street bus stops, create welcoming entrances to the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway at the Gove Street and Orleans Street intersection, and more.

When the floor was opened to questions and comments, a topic touched on several times concerned building height.

Previously in the meeting, Ricco explained that the BPDA is trying to move from foot height limits to story height limits. However, one resident asked how tall a story could be and if there were limits; out of concern, developers could game the system and build vertically.

Ricco explained that the thought is for most stories to be between 10 and 12 feet, and there is an ongoing conversation within the BPDA on limiting story height dependent on use.

Another resident brought up how he thought the predominant existing form in the subdistrict, which is proposed to allow four stories, is actually three stories. He wanted to know how many parcels could add a fourth story without a zoning variance.

In response to the variance question, Ricco explained that she felt modification of most existing buildings could not go forward without needing a variance, citing off-street parking requirements, which some buildings do not meet.

There were also comments about the MFR/LS subdistrict along Maverick Street and concerns from a few residents about parking becoming worse due to potential retail coming to the area.

Lastly, there was a discussion about the enforcement of the zoning code. A GSCA Board Member made the point that with the variances granted now by the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA), what is stopping developers from asking to erect buildings that are five stories, especially since the height limit is proposed to increase to four stories in the area.

“It is our hope that updating 30-year-old zoning to more accurately reflect what exists in the community will be a signal to the ZBA about those things that we’re very serious about enforcing,” said Ricco in response.

To learn more about the plan, you can view the complete draft at and leave feedback until October 27.

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