BRA launches transit-oriented planning efforts in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and South Boston
Focused studies will engage residents with goal of preserving, enhancing, and growing neighborhood assets
This month the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) will formally begin comprehensive planning studies of two transit-oriented corridors, one spanning Washington Street and Columbus Avenue in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury and the other along Dorchester Avenue in South Boston. In a December speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Martin J. Walsh highlighted the need to create a holistic plan for these areas, both of which are experiencing market pressures to transform former industrial or underutilized sites into vibrant mixed-use developments that can better meet neighborhood needs.
The BRA will work with community members and elected officials, as well as planning, design, and economic development professionals over the course of the next year to create detailed plans that include recommendations for updating zoning in each area so that it is consistent with current redevelopment goals. Given their proximity to major public transit nodes, the Washington Street and Dorchester Avenue corridors are seen as prime locations to support new middle-income housing, which is a priority for Mayor Walsh’s administration.
“It’s clear that developers have taken a serious interest in both of these areas, and we should use that as an opportunity to put together a comprehensive vision to guide development in the future,” said Mayor Walsh. “We have an undeniable need for more affordable housing in the City of Boston. We know these areas have the potential to accommodate new housing, but we want to work with residents to see what else we can do to strengthen their neighborhoods.”
“Transit-oriented developments are growing in popularity because they provide conveniences that aren’t possible when one has to rely on a car to get around,” BRA Director Brian Golden observed. “We’ll use the Orange Line in JP and Roxbury and the Red Line in South Boston to our advantage as we study the untapped potential of these areas. Great things already exist in both places. The question now is, how can we all work together to preserve, enhance, and grow those unique assets?”
The Jamaica Plain and Roxbury corridor study will focus on a stretch that spans Washington Street and Columbus Avenue, running between the MBTA’s Forest Hills and Jackson Square stations on the Orange Line. Amory Street will form the western boundary of the study area. The planning effort will look strategically at the uses, public realm improvements, and scale of development that are best suited to the corridor. It will determine the compatibility of different uses, including housing, commercial, light industrial, and open space, while also surveying the impacts of traffic on walkability and other mobility considerations.
The recent wave of mixed-use residential projects along Washington Street will be of particular focus, as the BRA works with community members and other stakeholders to determine the overall impacts of redevelopment opportunities in the area. Projects along the corridor that are currently under review by the BRA include 3200 Washington Street, 3371 Washington Street, and Bartlett Square II. Working with the community, the BRA will produce recommendations for updated zoning, public realm enhancements, traffic mitigation, and economic development opportunities.
In South Boston, the Dorchester Avenue corridor from Andrew Square to Broadway Station is undergoing a shift away from traditional manufacturing and industrial uses, as demand for residential and mixed-use development increases. For example, the BRA is reviewing a proposal for 235 Old Colony Avenue that would create several hundred apartments and retail stores on former industrial sites. Situated between two major Red Line stations and bus hubs, the corridor is ripe for transit-oriented development. Similar to the Washington Street corridor, the goal of the South Boston study will be to create new zoning that aligns the aspirations of the community with predictable development conditions.
Dorchester Avenue’s underutilized light industrial buildings will be the primary focus. The BRA will look to residents for ideas on how such properties could be transformed to contribute more positively to the corridor in the future. The study will suggest strategies for improving access to retail and developing affordable housing to meet the needs of local families, in addition to public realm improvements, traffic mitigation, and other economic development opportunities.
The Dorchester Avenue study area encompasses a portion of South Boston’s largest residential zoning district. The so-called H-1-50 zone, which touches Andrew Square, will be analyzed in hopes of updating antiquated zoning to allow for reasonable increases in density that would accommodate population growth. Based on resounding feedback from neighborhood residents and South Boston’s elected officials, Mayor Walsh has asked the BRA to work with the community so that any new zoning recommendations maintain the character of this residential district and place a renewed emphasis on architectural continuity.
The BRA is soliciting nominations for two advisory groups to help guide the public process and provide a wide range of stakeholder input for each study area. Elected officials, community organizations, and residents are encouraged to nominate individuals.
Community meetings are expected to begin in late July in both study areas. The BRA is taking a more creative approach to public engagement than it has in the past. In addition to traditional town-hall style meetings, there will also be “walk-shops,” where participants will be invited to tour the study areas with BRA planners, and other interactive planning exercises.
In May, Mayor Walsh kicked off Imagine Boston 2030, an effort to create Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years. While that process will define a broad vision for the city leading up to its 400th birthday, the Washington Street and Dorchester Avenue studies are the first two instances of more targeted planning efforts to update the zoning code for areas experiencing significant development pressures. The BRA has worked with the Mayor’s Office to identify up to a dozen other targeted planning areas around the city, the study of which would complement the citywide plan.