BPDA Hosts Meeting About 944 Saratoga Development

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

Last week, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) held a meeting regarding a development proposed at 944 Saratoga Street that would bring several units to the site, which abuts Noyes playground.

According to Richard Lynds, the project’s Zoning Attorney, the plan for the site includes constructing a five-story building with 24 residential units and 11 parking spaces — three of which are tandem spaces.

After Lynds reviewed the site context, which included information about other approved projects in the area, he outlined some topics the project team was asked to respond to.

One of these items concerned a mature tree to the left of the site, which is on city property. “One of the immediate comments that were raised early on in this process is the concern for that canopy of that tree and how that might be impacted based upon our proposed development,” said Lynds.

He explained that they hired a “very skilled” arborist to examine the tree and its potential to be pruned.

“We had a very reputable tree company go out and deal with the canopy of this tree in a way that would ensure there’s no harm and that the tree will continue to thrive,” said Lynds.

After the information about the tree, Lynds walked through the project’s zoning compliance. The project is situated in the mixed-use (MU)-4 district, part of the new zoning adopted by the Boston Zoning Commission in April.

In terms of building height, the project is being proposed technically as a four-story — the maximum number of stories allowed in the MU-4 district.

“The reason why we identify this as a four-story building from a technical zoning standpoint is because of its location in what we call the coastal flood resilience overlay district (CFROD),” said Lynds.

He explained that CFROD, also known as Article 25A in the zoning code, has unique regulations for determining where a first story begins. Lynds explained that a first story is usually considered “any portion of the building that is 65% or more above grade.” In CFROD, instead of measuring from grade, you would measure from the design flood elevation.

“For all intents and purposes, when you’re measuring the building for the number of stories, you don’t necessarily count the portion that is below 65% above grade or above the base flood elevation provided you do meet those requirements and those metrics you would not consider the first story until you get to 65% above design flood elevation,” said Lynds.

Moreover, the proposed height is 52.5 feet to the roof rafters. While the MU-4 District has a maximum height of 50 feet, Lynds indicated that Article 25A of the zoning code allows “for a different measurement when dealing with properties or buildings within the coastal flood resilience overlay district.”

According to the team’s calculations, the project conforms to the maximum building lot coverage, building width, floor plate, and minimum permeable area.

The minimum front yard requirement in MU-4 is six feet; the proposal ranges from 2.7 feet to 8.2 feet. Lynds explained that there is a carryover from the old zoning code in that there is language that allows for a modal setback.

“That is an exception under our code that allows for an average setback of a building based upon other buildings along that side of the street,” he said.

While the proposal complies with the minimum side yard, it only has a rear yard of 3.1 feet to 4.2 feet, which is less than the minimum requirement of 10 feet in the MU-4 District.

Lynds argued that the 10-foot minimum is intended to create a 20-foot buffer between buildings, but they do not have any buildings behind them, only Noyes playground.

“We’re going to likely be requesting relief for this particular item because we feel that the condition is a unique condition; it’s not one that’s shared by all of the properties in this particular district,” said Lynds.

Finally, Lynds spoke about parking and explained that under new zoning, the BPDA determines parking for projects under small or large project review, which this project is.

He explained that the parking is determined through maximum parking ratios and mobility scores determined by the city’s transportation department. East Boston has a mobility score that corresponds to a maximum parking ratio of 0-0.75 for rental projects and 0-1.0 for condominium projects.

“We are proposing a total of 11 parking spaces for this project. That will be entirely up to the BPDA and the BTD (Boston Transportation Department) to determine if it’s appropriate,” said Lynds.

After Lynds wrapped up his part of the presentation, Ermelin Moliere, a Senior Designer with Embarc, the project architect, walked through several aspects of the proposal.

The unit mix includes three studios, 13 one-bedrooms, and eight two-bedrooms, as well as five IDP (inclusionary development policy) units.

Moreover, Moliere spoke about the modal setback, in that the front of the building lines up with neighboring properties and that there are setbacks to the building to mitigate the height.

Moliere outlined the plan, which also contained updates, including relocating the building’s entrance, relocating the bike room, and much more. In terms of landscaping, there are plans to plant around the site and more.

After Moliere walked through floor plans, elevations, renderings, and more, the floor was opened to questions and comments from those in attendance.

One attendee questioned which units would be IDP units. Lynds indicated that there is a formula for selecting the IDP units, that they would be a mix of what has been proposed, and that they would be spread out in the building.

The same attendee had thought that since the units would have decks, there should be no need for a roof deck. Still, Lynds indicated that the roof deck offers another opportunity for outdoor space and that the property will be professionally managed.

Lynds also mentioned that the team would examine the unit mix, as the attendee wanted the team to consider including some larger units instead of studios.

Finally, the attendee was not in favor of the potential of the project, seeking a variance for the rear yard since new zoning was just recently introduced.

Another attendee agreed that the roof deck seemed unnecessary and commented that she needed clarification about the building height related to zoning parameters and CFROD and that she did not remember it being mentioned during the meetings about new zoning.

After Lynds cleared up the attendee’s confusion, the meeting was wrapped up by Ebony DaRosa of the BPDA. For more information about the project and to leave comments, visit https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/944-saratoga-street. The comment period ends June 12th.

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