Neighborhood Groups Stand Together in Response To PLAN: East Boston

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

In what John Casamassima of the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council (OHNC) thought was a first in many years, leaders of five neighborhood groups, the OHNC, Eagle Hill Civic Association (EHCA), Gove Street Citizens Association (GSCA), Harbor View Neighborhood Association (HVNA), and Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association (JPNA) have come together as one to make their voices heard on PLAN: East Boston.

The group of five, coined the East Boston Board of Boards, gathered to discuss the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) neighborhood planning initiative — PLAN: East Boston — which would bring changes to zoning, parking, roadways, and more.

Through discussions and assessments of the plan’s complete draft, released at the beginning of September, the East Boston Board of Boards has penned a 10-page letter with comments, suggestions, and questions, which was agreed upon by the leadership of all five associations.

The letter, addressed to Arthur Jemison, the BPDA’s Chief of Planning and Director, begins with overall comments on the plan.

The letter begins outlining the desire for a neighborhood needs analysis to better gauge the current and future needs of the community.

“The plan promises to fulfill the goal to preserve, enhance, and grow East Boston through zoning changes. However, preservation is missing entirely from the plan, and the plan was drafted

without a needs analysis to consider current and future needs,” reads the letter.

“East Boston should be afforded the same opportunity as Charlestown and Mattapan, who each received a needs analysis to help guide future zoning, allowing for appropriate consideration for services and infrastructure that benefits existing residents and allows for future growth,” the letter continues.

Another significant comment at the beginning of the letter concerns the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) and its ability to enforce the zoning code.

“Our expectation is that your agency and our elected officials will offer clear direction to the ZBA around the importance of not setting future precedent in the variance dispensation process and putting the community back in the same position we are in today.”

Further, the letter also requests that the BPDA meet with the plan’s advisory group and the community at intervals no less than every six months for the first year and a half to review and correct aspects if necessary.

After the overall comments in the letter, it lists 13 different topics ranging from structural massing to data requests with specific suggestions and feedback for the plan.

The first topic was structural massing and the proposed consolidation of residential subdistricts into three — East Boston Residential (EBR)- one, two, and three.

In this section of the letter, the group proposes actions for each EBR subdistrict. For example, in EBR-1 subdistricts, the East Boston Board of Boards wants the plan to clearly state that the gross floor area per floor is capped at 1,800 square feet.

Currently, in EBR-2 subdistricts, the plan would allow six units for lots greater than or equal to 50 feet in width, but the group would like that changed to 55 feet.

Moreover, in EBR-3 subdistricts, the Board of Boards would like to see the gross floor area decreased from 8,000 sq feet to 5,000 sq feet per floor.

It should be noted that these examples only scratch the surface of the numerous proposed actions from the Board of Boards regarding structural massing.

The next topic discussed was transitional zoning out of fear that how certain areas are zoned could lead to “jarring, out of place and large buildings next to historic housing stock.”

The letter uses the example of Faywood Avenue in that portions of that street are zoned as EBR-3, which allows buildings up to four stories but abuts an EBR-1 zone that only allows two and a half stories.

To combat this, the Board suggests implementing gradual transition zones, a transition zone on Bennington Street, and reducing zoning on the left side of Faywood Avenue.

In terms of Planned Development Areas and squares, the Board of Boards would like to see the reconsideration of how squares are being developed, an analysis of neighborhood amenities needed to be able to take in more density, and ground floors of buildings to have those amenities.

Parking was a big topic in the letter, with several proposed actions, such as giving clear parking requirements in the plan for buildings over three units, contemplating a spot where a municipal parking garage could ease parking shortages, and more.

“The BPDA is overlooking the reality that a car free environment in certain parts of the neighborhood is just not feasible due to the lack of amenities, infrastructure, demographics or topography,” reads the letter.

Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) were also covered in the letter, requesting that the implementation be outlined in the plan as it is in PLAN: Mattapan. Moreover, the group would like ADUs implemented into the existing recommendations, among other suggestions.

The letter then moves to the protection of family affordable housing. “The plan fails to address how we deepen affordability and avoid the displacement of many of the middle to low-income residents and families in East Boston, other than a build, build, build mindset.”

An example of a proposed action for this topic, of which there were a few, is to “require an overall percentage of square footage in addition to unit counts” when determining affordability and using Area Median Income (AMI) levels that reflect the community.

As the letter continues, several other topics were covered with proposals, such as protecting single-family homes, adding Orient Heights and Harbor View to the travel section of the plan, adding a community needs and services enhancement section, data requests in terms of population, and much more.

In addition to the 13 topics covered in the letter, it also lays out key prioritized concerns not touched on in the plan, such as protecting the greenway, pedestrian walkway enhancements, the airport, and more.

Moreover, the letter also lays out specific concerns for different associations and some overall clarification requests.

As previously noted, descriptions of these proposed actions merely scratch the surface of the 10-page letter. If you want to see the full version of the letter, visit

“The current draft of the PLAN is a good start; however, it fails to strike a balance of benefit to existing residents vs developers. We hope this letter and recommendations will help to swing the pendulum allowing existing residents to benefit from future zoning and the city to continue to grow,” reads the letter.

Later, concluding, “We look forward to a robust conversation with the BPDA and elected officials around these concerns and how we can make PLAN: East Boston something that we can all proudly support.”

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