After 14 working meetings with an advisory group of residents, businesses and property owners, the Boston Redevelopment Authority presented a draft of its strategic plan to bolster development along the Harrison-Albany Corridor at a public meeting Tuesday evening.
Included in the plan, which should be finalized in early October, are a series of changes to the city zoning code that would allow taller, denser buildings to be constructed in underutilized portions of the corridor.
“The current zoning wasn’t allowing…development to happen. It was almost too restrictive,” Senior Architect Michael Cannizzo said on Tuesday. “I think that was the first time I heard people say at a meeting, ‘You‘re not dense enough, you’re not tall enough.’”
The draft plan includes higher building heights in three of four areas along the corridor, with base heights of up to 100 feet allowed in the New York Streets area and portions of SoWa and the Back Streets. Projects larger that one acre that qualify as PDAs (Planned Development Areas) would be able to build even higher – up to 200 feet along the interstate.
In order to qualify a project as a PDA, a development team must submit detailed zoning plans including specifics on open space and parking. The process includes a 45-day public comment period.
Under the BRA’s plan, a PDA must provide additional affordable housing or affordable commercial or cultural space in order to take advantage of increased heights and density. They would also be required to designate 20 percent of the lot to public open space. Options in the BRA draft plan include public thruways such as private ways, alleys or pedestrian walkways, all of which would be open to the public but owned and maintained by the developer.
“We’re breaking some new ground here,” Cannizzo said of the affordable commercial space option. “We want to have new businesses in here, we want to have that vibrancy that new businesses bring.”
The plan also opens the door for liquor stores and bars to set up shop along the corridor on a case-by-case basis with community input. Currently, both are forbidden in all four subsections of the corridor.
Short and long-term transportation changes included in the plan mirror those presented to the advisory group in February. They include opening the Harrison Avenue overpass to two-way traffic, making Traveler Street two-way between Harrison and Albany Street and making Washington Street two-way between Herald and East Berkeley streets to better connect the corridor to surrounding neighborhoods.
For pedestrians, the BRA has promised increased connections with South Boston, specifically in the area underneath Interstate 93. On Tuesday, South End resident Chris Wells called for lighting and plantings to make the walk more enjoyable and safe.
“It’s a no-man’s land underneath 93, and then you get over to the Fort Point Channel and the whole mood changes,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
In March, the BRA discussed studying whether the area underneath the interstate could be converted into parking, despite lacking funding for implementation.
A final version of the Strategic Plan will be posted on the BRA website in the next few weeks. Once posted, a two-week public comment period will begin before the plan is presented to the BRA Board for adoption.