Roslindale Neighbors: Rozzie rezoning wraps up

John Ruch

Revitalization of Roslindale Square and a boost in parking spaces are among the slated changes as the first rezoning of Roslindale in a half-century begins wrapping up this month.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) board may vote Tuesday on the Neighborhood Strategic Plan, the master document of neighborhood history and recommendations. Actual changes to the zoning code could begin this winter.

“We feel pretty pleased with it,” said resident Wayne Beitler, co-chair of the BRA advisory group on the rezoning. “It calls for maintaining a lot of the values of the neighborhood.”

Zoning code governs allowed uses of property and the size and type of developments. It can both preserve existing uses and encourage new ones.

“Roslindale hasn’t been rezoned since the ’50s,” said BRA senior planner Sue Kim in a Gazette interview. Most other parts of Boston have, and actually have their own neighborhood-specific articles in the zoning code. Roslindale has been operating under generic Boston code.

Kim said that after residents began complaining about high-density developments and other problems, Mayor Thomas Menino ordered a rezoning process in 2005.

Kim and BRA senior planner Marie Mercurio said the recommend changes address that concern directly, with lower densities and increased yard size, or “setback,” requirements on housing developments.

“We looked at ways to enhance commercial district vitality,” Beitler said, noting that a big change is encouraging mixed housing and commercial buildings in Roslindale Square. Most of the buildings there now are all-commercial, some only one story high.

“We tend to think putting some housing above commercial [buildings] helps revitalize the area,” Mercurio said. Not only will the use be allowed, but a slightly higher density may be permitted there.

A big—and unique—change is that residential development will be required to offer two parking spaces per unit, instead of the standard citywide ratio of 1.5 per unit.

“There’s an argument that discourages public transit,” Beitler acknowledged. But, he said, statistics showed that about half of Roslindale residents work in the suburbs, with many presumably needing cars to get there.

Mercurio said the influx of cars into the neighborhood in recent years favored a parking boost.

“That’s a big gain for us,” said Mercurio, adding that it took a lot of discussion and “argument” with the Boston Transportation Department, which typically encourages fewer cars.

She added that the decision was made “knowing, of course, that other neighborhoods will say, ‘Hey, what about us?’”

The rezoning began in spring, 2005, when the BRA gave Rozzie an IPOD. That’s not an Apple device, but the Interim Planning Overlay District may have been music to neighborhood ears all the same. The IPOD is a temporary substitute for the zoning code, under which the BRA reviews all proposed building projects, including ones that normally would be “as of right,” or not needing a zoning variance.

The BRA also convened the 15-member advisory group to begin planning, while beginning the actual reworking of the zoning articles on a parallel track.

Mercurio noted that the advisory group is unusual for gathering residents from across Roslindale, which lacks a neighborhood council or other neighborhood-wide organization. She credited it for bringing a broad range of views to the table.

The advisory group’s initial work involved raising key issues, developing a community vision and recommending changes. A draft of the strategic plan will shortly circulate to the group.

“We take those recommendations and fold them into the zoning article,” said Mercurio.

The advisory group will review those actual code changes as well. Mercurio said a draft of those changes should go before the group in about a month.

The IPOD continues until the code change is authorized by the Boston Zoning Commission.

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