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Final Hyde Park rezoning meeting gets heated

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  November 23, 2011 11:04 AM

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draft map 11-22.JPG
(Boston Redevelopment Authority)
The latest draft zoning map for Hyde Park.

The final community meeting to discuss rezoning Hyde Park maintained the contentious tone that marked past meetings, with a handful of neighborhood activists confronting Boston Redevelopment Authority officials on aspects of the plan.

Though the new zoning article would maintain current regulations throughout the neighborhood’s residential districts and introduce relatively few changes in commercial and industrial zones, a short list of issues has never been resolved to universal satisfaction. Those items are important to those on both sides, as they relate to the basic question of whether Hyde Park will remain a relatively quiet and semi-suburban neighborhood or embrace greater density, with both the benefits and sacrifices that urbanization entails.

Some residents’ frustrations simmered throughout the meeting and came to a boil near its end, when Readville resident Craig Martin and Barbara Baxter, president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and a member of the zoning advisory group, accused BRA planners Marie Mercurio and Ted Schwartzberg of reneging on a promise to limit new development in Cleary and Logan Squares to three floors.

“It was 35 feet and three floors, now it’s 40 feet,” Baxter said. “I thought we decided on 40 feet and three floors.”

Mercurio and Schwartzberg said they had no recollection of saying that but would check the meeting notes. But some residents said regardless of what the planners had said previously, this had always been the community’s desire and the planners should embrace it.

“You just ignored it the whole time,” said Irene Walczak, a Fairmount Hill resident. “Why don’t we go back to what Logan Square was originally: 35-slash-three? Leave it the way it is. Don’t change anything, just leave it.”

The back-and-forth continued for about 10 minutes, with small group of residents continuing to insist that the code include a three-story limit, and the planners steadfastly refusing to consider that restriction. After a while, Schwartzberg read aloud the zoning code’s lengthy and highly technical definition of measuring height, effectively ending the conversation.

The process of rezoning the neighborhood has been contentious, but some say it is long overdue. Currently, the neighborhood is still covered by the base zoning code created in 1965 for the entire city. Beginning in the 1980s, almost all other Boston neighborhoods have been rezoned according to local uses and preferences; only Hyde Park and South Boston remain under the base code.

A strategic plan to guide the zoning process was developed over 20 public advisory committee meetings between May 2009 and July 2011 and adopted by the BRA board in August. The new zoning code would apply only to new construction or renovation; any existing use is permitted to continue under the new code.

In some cases, residents said the new code didn’t go far enough. Walczak, fellow Fairmount Hill resident Joseph Smith, and others in the room felt the protections of the Riverfront Protection Overlay District should apply to residential as well as commercial development, or at least to multi-unit residential development. Under the new zoning code, any new commercial construction along the Neponset River or Mother Brook would be subject to BRA review and would be encouraged to provide public access and views to the water.

But Mercurio said extending the protection to private residences would be intrusive and unnecessary. She said the Boston Conservation Commission would oversee any residential development to ensure protection of the waterways, and she didn’t think it appropriate to tell homeowners they had to allow public access or views of the water through their properties.

“We don’t want to encourage public access on your house if you’re within the RPOD,” Mercurio said.

Schwartzberg said that at one point the language had included residential development, but neighborhood residents at previous meetings had asked that provision be removed.

Walczak said there should be a protected right-of-way for public access to the riverbanks as there is along many seacoasts, so that potential property buyers would know before buying that they would have to permit public access.

“Otherwise the protection part of this for the river way is a misnomer,” Walczak said. “It’s no protection at all, because protection would mean that you wouldn’t be allowing people to build there.

Mercurio said the planners would take Walczak’s request under consideration.

At one point, the planners seemed ready to add a footnote to the commercial parking requirement for Logan and Cleary squares that would reduce the number of spaces required of restaurants within a short walk of municipal lots. Schwartzberg said his and Mercurio’s earlier retail study of Hyde Park had shown that many residents were frustrated with the lack of options in the squares.

“Part of that is that when you require someone who’s opening up a new business to find parking where parking doesn’t exist, that makes it that much harder, that much more expensive to start up a new small business, and in the long run that turns businesses away and it makes it so this problem of having nowhere to shop is even worse because no one wants to deal with having to find parking where it doesn’t exist,” Schwartzberg said.

But after a mixed response from the residents in attendance, Mercurio said they would leave that provision as it was unless they heard substantial support during the public comment period that has just begun.

The comment period officially ends Dec. 6, though Mercurio said they would continue to consider comments submitted within a week or so past that date. Those wanting to comment on the draft zoning article can reach Mercurio at Marie.Mercurio.BRA@cityofboston.gov and Schwartzberg at Ted.Schwartzberg.BRA@cityofboston.gov. To download the draft zoning article or other documents from the planning process, visit http://www.tinyurl.com/hpzoning.

The planners will present the new zoning article for approval at a public BRA board meeting on Jan. 12, 2012, where the public will be permitted to speak. If the BRA board approves the article, it will then move on to final approval by the zoning commission in February.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @DowntownUpdate.

Schwartzberg and Mercurio.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Boston Redevelopment Authority planners Ted Schwartzberg and Marie Mercurio presented the zoning document to the community.

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