(Boston Redevelopment Authority)
Planners from the Boston Redevelopment Authority have almost completed revisions on the Hyde Park Neighborhood Strategic Plan and will soon submit the document to the authority’s board for approval.
After reviewing residents’ comments collected during and after the June 15 community meeting to discuss the plan, BRA officials presented a list of 20 changes this week at the final meeting of Neighborhood Strategic Plan Advisory Group.
The changes range from the quotidian — such as the updating of census data and the explicit inclusion of Wolcott Square among the neighborhood's commercial districts — to such highly controversial issues as height restrictions on buildings in Cleary and Logan squares and parking requirements for mixed-use developments in those squares.
In response to residents’ concerns, the revision will call for minimum distances between day-care centers and group homes to reduce traffic and parking issues associated with the extra visitors such facilities get. Marie Mercurio, a senior planner for the BRA, said the minimum-distance recommendation was unusual.
“We don’t do this in any other neighborhood in the city,” she said,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t.”
And due to community concerns about allowing residential uses alongside light industry in spaces for artists such as the Westinghouse Lofts, the latest version will also recommend that Artists’ Mixed Use spaces in Light Industrial subdistricts should be conditional. All conditional uses are subject to community review.
It will also recommend design guidelines that support a pedestrian-friendly environment convenient for walk-in customers in the Local Convenience subdistricts containing small retail shops. And it will include text recommending the conditional allowance of small-scale lodgings, such as bed and breakfasts.
At the request of the city’s senior zoning officer, the revised plan reduces the buffer zone on the Greenbelt Protection Overlay Districts from 500 feet off the center of designated “Greenbelt Roadways” to 200 feet from center. It also reduces the zone for the Riverfront Protection Overlay Districts from 300 to 200 feet from the center line of waterways.
Mercurio said some property owners within 300 feet “really have no idea that the river or Mother Brook is even there” because it isn’t visible from their properties, so requiring visibility and access from those properties didn’t make sense.
At the suggestion of residents, the plan recommends a marker to label Cleary Square and suggests that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation make pedestrian improvements to the River Street Bridge over the commuter rail just west of Cleary Square.
“If MassDOT picks up this plan, they can see that this was a real priority for the community,” Mercurio said. “That’s the best this plan can do.”
The revision will also extend the boundaries of Cleary Square and its neighborhood shopping subdistrict slightly to the south and west to include the industrial parcels just south of Dana Avenue, adjacent to the Hyde Park Commuter Rail station.
The revision also specifically calls for on-street accessible parking spaces adjacent to medical offices and other locations used by seniors and the mobility impaired.
While those recommendations for Cleary and Logan squares appeared to have general support, some others remained controversial.
Despite resistance from some residents, the plan continues to set a 40-foot height limit for buildings in the two commercial squares, though the revision will include new text specifying that buildings of more than three stories are permitted only on parcels sloped enough that a building of three and a half or four stories can be built with a façade no more than 40 feet above the sidewalk grade.
This was among the plan’s most contentious issues, with some in the community wanting the height restriction set at 35 feet or lower, or for the plan to specifically ban buildings of more than three stories, while others wanted to raise the height limit.
Mercurio said the 40-foot limit would only maintain the existing height restriction for the squares, but some in the audience called her out on that claim, saying the current height limit for Cleary Square was 40 feet but the limit is 35 for Logan Square. Mercurio conceded the point.
Barbara Baxter, a member of the advisory group and president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, joined with several residents in attendance to ask why the limit couldn’t be set at 35, as it is in Roslindale, when many in the community favor that limit. Mercurio responded that Roslindale’s planning was done at a different time, with a different project manager.
BRA planner Ted Schwartzberg added that what he’s seen through this process is that residents like Hyde Park the way it is, so they devised a plan that would mostly maintain the status quo.
Group member and East River Street Neighborhood Association President Barbara Hamilton said she’s seen photographs of Hyde Park from many decades past, when there were more buildings at that height in the squares, and it didn’t appear to be a problem.
“While we’re not trying to go back to that day, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it could be like that again,” she said.
But one resident responded that those photos were taken when there were fewer cars, and more horses.
On another controversial issue, the minimum parking requirement for mixed-use developments within those squares, the revision backs down from the 1.0 spaces per residential unit proposed at the June meeting, restoring the requirement of 1.5 spaces previously proposed.
For commercial development, the current requirements of .9 spaces for Cleary Square and 1.0 for Logan would be made uniform at 1.0 spaces for both, and the requirement in residential districts will increase, as planned, from 1.0 spaces to 2.0.
“We hope that everyone is feeling better about that,” Mercurio said.
Some residents continued to say that more parking was needed, that the authority’s goal of bringing more transit-oriented development to the neighborhood was flawed.
Readville resident Craig Martin cited two nearby developments intended for families relying mostly on public transportation that he said had full parking lots because most residents chose to own cars.
With the planning process complete, the final draft will go before the BRA’s board of directors for approval at its Aug. 16 meeting, which will be open to the public. After the plan is approved, the process of rezoning the neighborhood is expected to begin in September, after the BRA generates a first draft of the zoning plan.
During rezoning, the BRA plans several more advisory group meetings and one community meeting. They hope to submit the new zoning plan to the zoning commission by the end of this year or early 2012, with the commission expected to quickly adopt it thereafter.
The advisory group meetings will be public, as will both the BRA board meeting and the zoning commission hearing, with residents given the opportunity to voice their support or objections to elements of the plans.
Mercurio said copies of the final plan with these 20 changes incorporated would be available in the Hyde Park Branch Library within about two weeks.
Email Jeremy C. Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.