Residents cite affordability, density and preservation as top concerns for corridor study

The resounding feedback from attendees at a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) workshop for the Washington Street/Columbus Avenue corridor study was to increase housing affordability; increase density and mixed-use buildings; and preserve identity and cultural diversity.

About 200 people attended the Sept. 30 workshop held in the cafeteria at English High School. The workshop is part of the public outreach effort by the BRA in forming new zoning for the Washington Street/Columbus Avenue corridor. The BRA expects to have that new zoning in place by summer 2016.

Three, 20 minute discussions were held on Sept. 30 with several breakout groups at the workshop. The first theme that was discussed, called Community Resiliency and Sustainability, incorporated topics such as infrastructure; housing and affordability; and environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

Group members were most passionate on that theme and gave a lot of feedback. There was some consensus that preservation of diversity, more mixed-use and dense developments, and preventing direct displacement of residents were among the most important issues for that theme.

The overwhelming consensus across the room was that there should be more “actual” affordable housing, of which the requirements should be reevaluated to more accurately reflect the area median income. It was specified that affordable housing should incorporate the elderly and disabled and last long-term.

The next theme discussed was Mobility & Connectivity and Public Realm & Placemaking, and it incorporated issues of physical mobility across the neighborhoods and within the city of Boston. It also included the public realm, such as streets, plazas, sidewalks, and benches.

The most pressing issue in one group was the need for better east-west connection across the neighborhood (crossing over the Southwest Corridor). Residents and group members agreed that north-to-south mobility was good, but that the east-to-west routes need improvement. There was also considerable consensus on the need for late night T service and improvements to the Washington Street streetscape, especially near Forest Hills, saying that the area isn’t friendly towards bicyclists and pedestrians.

The final theme that was discussed, Land Use and Development, incorporated zoning uses. Much of the area around Washington St. has industrial zoning, of which the definition of may be changing to incorporate more technology businesses.

Members of one group said that there needs to be a greater mix of uses, including more commercial resources, such as grocery stores, banks and pharmacies. That group came to a consensus that six or seven stories seemed to be a good height of buildings for the Forest Hills area.

Participants of the workshop were encouraged to identify the most important topics for improvement. The top choices from attendees were affordability; maintaining cultural diversity and identity, such as keeping JP weird; preventing direct displacement of residents; increasing density and mixed use of buildings; and connectivity across JP east to west.

Members of the Washington/Columbus Corridor Coalition, which involves JPNDC, Urban Edge, City Life/Vida Urbana, Egleston Square Main Street, Egleston Square YMCA and Egleston Youth, were in attendance at the meeting. The recently-formed coalition has several goals: maintain economic, racial and ethnic diversity of residents and businesses; prioritize racial and economic justice in all aspects of planning; and advocate for affordable housing and work to prevent displacement, according to an email sent by the coalition.          The coalition principles for action involve establishing a planning process that is shaped by the community, pursuing active efforts to prevent future displacement of residents and businesses, strengthening affordability targets for all new development, embedding affordability requirements into zoning, and improving economic opportunity in the community.

The BRA also announced the members of its advisory group members for the study, who are all members of the community in some way. They are Andrew Lynch, Ann Holland, Alvin Shiggs, Andrew Schnell, Anne Barrett, Bill Reyelt, Carolyn Royce, Dan Thomas, Danilo Morales, Danny Mekonnen, Girma Belay, Jeff Goodman, Judith Lamb, Krystal Garcia, Leslie Bos, Madhu Dutta-Koehler, Michael Fiorillo, Michael Littman, Nicholas Franco, Raul Medina, Robert Torres, Rosalyn Elder, Sarah Horsley, Tim Reardon, Yamilet Torres, and Yovanny Pulcini.

The BRA will hold another meeting on the corridor study later this month, according to the workshop agenda. The topic of this meeting will be Community, Resiliency, & Sustainability, and the other aforementioned topics will be focused on in meetings later this year. For more information about the corridor study, visit bit.ly/1NkcGg6.

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