S. Huntington ‘vision’ plan questioned, praised

December 21, 2012
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The Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) first community meeting about creating a “corridor vision” for upcoming S. Huntington Avenue redevelopment drew both questions and support from about 80 residents, officials and developers on Dec. 12 at the Hennigan School at 200 Heath St.

The BRA is conducting its “corridor study” in response to community demands following rapid, large-scale redevelopment on the street, including high-end apartment buildings at 105A and 161 S. Huntington and the undetermined future of the former Goddard House at 201 S. Huntington. The study is expected to take a few months and two more public meetings, but will still influence the “Serenity” project at 105A, which is currently under review, and the former Goddard House, BRA official said.

The study will create “guidelines” that the BRA will apply to projects during design review. They will cover the types of land use, such as residential, commercial or institutional; physical characteristics such as building height and green space; and transportation issues. Community input will help determine those guidelines.

Among those praising the corridor study was Serenity developer Anthony Nader.

“We, like the rest of the community, welcome the BRA’s process allowing the public to express its vision for this important city street,” Nader told the Gazette. “We listened to our neighbors and officials before we made our proposal, and we believe the strong housing component fits with the neighborhood’s needs and desires.”

But City Councilor Mike Ross, who represents the area, expressed concern that the guidelines could be a stumbling block for the Serenity and a “tool to re-litigate” the highly controversial, already-approved 161 S. Huntington project.

Some residents questioned whether the guidelines will have real power, while others asked for them to cover a larger area as far as Brigham Circle on Huntington Avenue.

The guidelines will be written down but informal and will not replace existing zoning, BRA officials said. The current plan is for them to apply to the stretch of S. Huntington between Huntington and Perkins Street in Jamaica Plain, where the current redevelopment is happening.

JP resident Pam Bender urged clarity in the goal of the guidelines.

“I am not interested in developing more guidelines to be ignored,” she said.

In terms of specifics, a major suggestion was to require more affordable housing on that street. The Serenity and 161 projects have drawn heated criticism, especially in Jamaica Plain, for being high-end rental projects.

The zoning code requires that all large-scale housing projects either make 10 to 15 percent of the units affordable, or pay for an equivalent number of affordable units elsewhere in the city. Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member Jesse White suggested that the guidelines demands 25 percent affordability instead, a higher standard that the council has a policy of requesting from developers already.

Attendees pointed out that two major players on the street were not in attendance: the MBTA, which runs the Green Line and the Route 39 bus there, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at 150 S. Huntington. Both organizations were invited, BRA officials said.

“This is the first I am hearing about ‘corridor guidelines’,” VA spokesperson Diane Keefe told the Gazette. “To the best of my knowledge we are not involved at this point in time.”

Asked by the Gazette whether the MBTA will get involved in the corridor study, spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said, “The MBTA is always willing to participate in discussions pertaining to the delivery of public transit services, and how those services may satisfy a community’s needs.”

Pesaturo added that the MBTA has “no plans to make any significant changes to the E branch of the Green Line.”

The MBTA’s budget-related service cuts last year included reducing weekend Green Line service on S. Huntington, home to the Heath Street T stop.

The next corridor study meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 9. The BRA’s website for the study can be seen at http://www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org/planning/PlanningInitsIndividual.asp?action=ViewInit&InitID=160.

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