A recent decision by Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal shows why all Boston mayoral candidates should embrace an effort to rezone the city.
An autobody shop owner sought to retire by converting his property into much-needed housing: a 7-unit, two-storefront apartment building on Washington Street opposite the Roslindale Target.
But neighbors attacked the project for omitting parking on the ground floor – conveniently ignoring that it would create more street parking by eliminating the shop’s large driveway cut.
The project got the support of four of the six ZBA members voting on the item – one had recused himself. But, in the bizarre world of Boston land-use policy, this meant it had to head back to the drawing board. The new Housing Choice zoning reforms, which lower approval thresholds for housing projects from one-half to two-thirds, don’t apply to the city.
Board chair and Roslindale resident Christine Araujo cast the critical “no” vote. Parking in Roslindale Village, she said, is hard enough when shopping. Clearly, she has not read study after study that shows landlords who provide parking for tenants attract many more car owners than those who don’t. She likely also did not consider that these residents will not need cars, given their proximity to so many stores and transit options. And Roslindale, one of the city’s most desirable areas outside the downtown core, is the worse for it.
These hecklers’ vetoes are enabled by Boston’s land-use policy mess. With a zoning code older than some of the ZBA’s members, nearly every project is subject to this kind of scrutiny, adding time and costs – which drive up rents and prices – or outright killing perfectly good projects that exemplify the kind of development the city needs.
Mid-sized, dense residential developments are crucial to Boston’s ability to provide housing to all who need it at a range of price points. But it can’t get there without political figures – led by the city’s next permanent mayor – leading the charge on the fundamentally political process of developing a new and realistic land-use plan that makes these kinds of projects buildable by right.
Fortunately, four of the major candidates for mayor still in the race have embraced this vision to one degree or another, following At-Large City Councilor Michelle Wu to ground she staked out even before the race got underway.
The one outlier, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, still has not released a policy vision for development or land use and her campaign continues to be reluctant to follow her competitors in describing Janey’s vision to the development community with a column in this paper. We sincerely hope that will change soon. Boston voters and the builders and financiers that enable the city to prosper deserve it.
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