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Zoning Changes Proposed for Albany/Harrison Corridor

City Redevelopment Authority hopes to spur development in underused portions of the South End.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority will push for higher building height allowances and other zoning changes in portions of the South End as part of a strategic plan aimed at revitalizing Harrison and Albany streets.

Buildings bordering the highway in the eastern-most portion of the South End near the Boston Herald offices could be built to heights of 175 feet, and a "focal point" building at the corner of Herald and Albany streets could soar to 225 feet, according to suggested changes presented by the BRA at an advisory group meeting on Wednesday.

Similar changes in maximum height allowances were suggested in the Boston Medical Center area, which is already home to some of the South End's tallest buildings. Senior Architect Michael Cannizzo suggested allowing heights of up to 175 feet near the intersection of Mass Ave. and Interstate 93.

Increasing the maximum heights for developers would hopefully spur interest in building projects and retail venues in an area checkered with vacant lots and empty storefronts, Cannizzo said. Currently, heights are capped at 70 feet along the majority of the Harrison/Albany corridor. Increasing that number, particularly along the highway, would "acknowledge the difficulty of developing that area," he said.

Although none of the changes presented on Wednesday are set in stone, several advisory group members voiced concerns over the needs of specific areas. In many cases, stakeholders advocated for more change rather than less.

John Kiger, leasing director at GTI Properties on Harrison Avenue, questioned the decision to keep the entire SoWa district at 70 feet when development is so badly needed.

"What I see here is an invitation to failure," he said. "If you restrict it to 70 feet you're never going to get a hotel."

According to Kiger, many businesses in the SoWa area are struggling for survival due to the lack of density in the area. Vast open spaces add nothing to the consumer base of the neighborhood, he added.

"I think what you want to do is not put handcuffs on the development of this area," he said. "What we're dealing with next to the highway is vast stretches of open lots."

In addition to higher height allowances in certain areas, six specific lots labeled as "focal points" by the BRA would be given higher maximum heights to invite creative development under the proposed changes. The focal points were chosen by their location, Cannizzo said, and their ability to act as "gateways" to specific areas of the South End.

"Something can happen here at this corner, architecturally," he said, pointing to the corner of Washington and Herald streets. "It could be the design of the building, it could be some additional height, something special could happen."

Wednesday's presentation also included preliminary streetscape guidelines, meant to enhance and maintain continuity within designated use areas. Along Type A streets, which would include Traveler, Perry and Albany streets, wide sidewalks and a double row of trees could transform the area into a "linear park," similar to Stuart Street and portions of Huntington Avenue in Back Bay, Cannizzo said. At the other end of the spectrum, Type C streets such as East Canton would have narrower sidewalks with fewer plantings in order to facilitate light industrial uses.  

A full version of Wednesday's presentation can be viewed on the BRA website. Comments on the proposed changes will be accepted through Friday, Nov. 26 and can be sent via email to carlos.montanez.bra@cityofboston.gov or sue.kim.bra@cityofboston.gov or by calling (617) 918-4442.

The next advisory group meeting will be scheduled in January, with hopes of finalizing zoning changes by spring.   

BRAscandal April 04, 2011 at 04:24 PM
This has the potential to devastate the South End. What makes the area distinctive is its scale and historic buildings. I went to this meeting, and all the developers want higher buildings, no zoning restrictions, and DENSITY. The Pike presently protects the South End's character, but this will end if the BRA allows the Chinatown zoning to apply to an area that has never been associated with that neighborhood.
South End Resident November 14, 2011 at 12:39 AM
Agreed. I think that most residents are not aware that this will result in 200 foot towers in the "Planned Development Areas". Twice the height of Atelier. This was all done with the pretense of seeking public feedback, but that detail was included in fine print.
Jodi November 14, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Why does the South End need a large hotel? Why not a smaller boutique hotel that would fit with the character of the neighborhood? You could feature local artists works, make it trendy/fit with the vibe of SOWA... Furthermore - why extend the heights all the way up E. Berkeley to Shawmut? The South End does not need another Atelier!! Don't over develop the area, shadow our gardens and parks and ruin our vistas that we pay premiums for!!

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