(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Today the Boston Zoning Commission approved a new zoning article for Hyde Park, concluding a 33-month public process that revealed deep dissent among residents regarding the neighborhood’s future.
The controversy ended in compromise. Those who would have welcomed nine-story buildings in Cleary Square and lower parking requirements to encourage transit-oriented development didn’t get their wish, but neither did those who wanted to prohibit new construction higher than three stories in the neighborhood’s business district. Instead, the code mostly maintains current restrictions, particularly in residential areas, while allowing somewhat greater density in commercial districts.
Marie Mercurio, a senior planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority who led the planning and zoning process, said she and her team heard loud and clear from residents that they liked Hyde Park’s suburban feel and wanted the neighborhood to remain that way.
She recalled being “laughed out of the room” at one meeting where planners suggested ambitious changes to the code.
“We’re really trying to tell people this is not going to create high-scale, high-density development,” Mercurio said. Instead, she predicted there would be slow change over time in Cleary and Logan squares, a gradual infill of taller buildings to replace some low, aging buildings in the business district.
Bob Fondren, chair of the zoning commission, asked why there was no maximum number of off-street parking spaces for residential units, and Mercurio explained that neighborhood residents had no appetite for such a measure.
She said there had been some interest in reducing parking requirements for the business district, but it had come too late in the planning process to become part of the document. With more support, she said, that could become the first amendment to the zoning article. Fondren suggested the BRA also look at adding a maximum number of spaces as part of that amendment.
City Councilor Robert Consalvo, a Hyde Park native who represents the neighborhood on the council, spoke in support of the new code, as did three members of the citizens’ advisory committee who had worked on the planning process.
Consalvo praised the planners and the community for their work and said the new code included “a lot of important changes” that would protect the neighborhood’s distinctive features, such as the new historic districts.
“I tell people Hyde Park has these huge houses, these great Victorians that were built in the 1800s, and no one believes me until I take them out there,” said Consalvo, a tireless booster for the neighborhood.
Resident Jay Paget, chair of the advisory group, said his goal was to make it easier for developers to build businesses that would enhance the community. Paget praised developers like Michael Tallon, who built a mixed-use building near Logan Square and opened a restaurant and a coffee shop on the first floor, and said he wanted the new code to support those willing to take risks to improve the neighborhood.
“We were successful in some ways, but not in others,” Paget said.
Ken Fields, vice-chair of the group and one of the biggest proponents for taller buildings and more mixed-use development, reflected on the concerns of those who opposed those ideas.
“There was much opposition to anything that increased heights because of fear of a canyon-like effect,” he said. In the end, Fields said, the code was a compromise that “reflects the whole of Hyde Park.”
Though five residents spoke in opposition to the new zoning at the Jan. 12 BRA board meeting where the code received its initial approval, none were present today. With no visible opposition, the commission discussed the new code only briefly before voting its unanimous approval. Fondren, the chair, said residents’ desires were very clear.
“The community obviously is very happy they way they are, and that’s one of the strong points, to me, of living in Boston,” he said.
Hyde Park is one of Boston’s last neighborhoods to get its own zoning article replacing the citywide code set in 1965.
To download the zoning article or other documents from the planning process, visit http://www.tinyurl.com/hpzoning.
For previous coverage of the zoning and strategic planning process visit:
BRA board unanimously approves proposed Hyde Park re-zoning
Final Hyde Park rezoning meeting gets heated
Hyde Park rezoning underway
Boston Redevelopment Authority approves Hyde Park Strategic Plan
Hyde Park Strategic Plan moves on for BRA approval
Hyde Park Strategic Plan spurs debate
Hyde Park Strategic Plan moves forward