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BRA Proposes Incentives, Lower Base Heights for Developers in Harrison/Albany Corridor

Some stakeholders in Harrison/Albany Corridor group disheartened by changes.

An updated proposal by the Boston Redevelopment Authority would make fewer changes to base heights along the Harrison/Albany Corridor but allow higher building heights to developers willing to provide affordable housing or commercial space through an expanded incentives program.

Under the proposal, which was presented to the Harrison/Albany Corridor Advisory Group last Wednesday, base heights would remain at 70 feet throughout most of SoWa and the Back Streets neighborhood, with a few lots along Interstate 93 increased to 100 feet. The New York Streets neighborhood would increase to 100 feet to drive development in what many consider an underused gateway to the South End.

Wednesday’s numbers represented a more cautious approach to the re-zoning initiative along the corridor, which began in 2008. At a previous meeting, the BRA proposed increasing base heights in SoWa and Back Streets to 100 feet, based on comments from stakeholders asking for more change instead of less.

BRA Senior Architect Michael Cannizzo said the scaled-down proposal was based on feedback collected from the public since the group’s last meeting in February.

 “We’re trying to find a balance between no height increase and a lot of height increase,” he said. “We feel this growth is not only appropriate...but [it] also helps us with the traffic in the area.”

Under the proposal, taller building heights would still be an option for developers willing to provide additional affordable housing, affordable commercial space or an affordable neighborhood cultural space such as a library, theatre or community center. Properties sitting on larger parcels could also provide publicly accessible open space or a public thruway.

“We’re looking for a benefit back to the city or the neighborhood,” Cannizzo said of the incentives, which are still being drafted.

For developers who take advantage of the incentives program, the BRA is proposing allowing building heights of up to 120 feet in large swaths of SoWa and Back Streets and heights of up to 150 feet in most of the New York Streets neighborhood. Select blocks along the Interstate would be allowed to build up to 200 feet through the program.

For many advisory group members however, Wednesday’s numbers were a step backwards in terms of driving development. Bonnie Gossels, who spoke on behalf of the Newmarket Business Association, said requiring developers to go through the extensive Article 80 process in order to build under the incentive program would discourage them from building in the South End.

“Within the city of Boston the seaport area doesn’t have these restrictions, the places we are losing jobs to right now [like] Rhode Island [don’t] have these restrictions,” she said.

“For an entrepreneur business to wait to go through the Article 80 process means they’ve already found a place elsewhere,” she continued. “This is a job-killing proposal.”

Joe Cefalo, Director of the , questioned the BRA’s decision to scale down numbers from February’s meeting, after increasing them in response to stakeholder comments.

“You talk about feedback – I’d like to see the feedback you’ve received…that would justify this,” he said. “We have meetings, there’s input, everyone sort of agrees, and the next meeting everything changes.”

“I’m puzzled and I’m concerned,” he said.

The group will hold one more working session and a community meeting for members of the public in late May/early June. Proposed zoning changes will then be submitted to the Zoning Commission for approval, with implementation slated to start by July.

A full version of Wednesday's presentation can be viewed on the BRA website. Comments or questions on the proposed changes can be sent via email to carlos.montanez.bra@cityofboston.gov or maria.mercurio.bra@cityofboston.gov or by calling (617) 918-4442.

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