By Josie Grove
Special to the Gazette
The PLAN JP/Rox neighborhood planning process, initiated by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, has been controversial for its suggestions of fundamental change in the neighborhood, including adding some 3,000 households and building more, taller buildings. The planning process was recently extended by three months, after residents called and wrote letters to the BRA, and staged a demonstration during a BRA-held meeting on the plan.
The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) hosted a community meeting on June 22 that about 50 people with questions and concerns about the future of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.
“The purpose of this meeting is to build awareness of PLAN JP/Rox, and to create discussion,” said Alvin Shiggs, who is a member of the Plan JP/Rox advisory group. “The big questions are how much growth, and how to have that growth in a healthy, positive, and equitable way?”
Shiggs said that many members of the advisory group think that the draft plan presented by the BRA in May leaves many unanswered questions about infrastructure, stability, and affordability.
“Affordable housing is a really big priority,” said Caroline Royce, a member of the advisory group and the JPNC, as she presented that section of the plan.
Thirty percent or 900, of the 3,000 new housing units will be affordable at various levels. Half of those units will be reserved for current neighborhood residents. Many market rate units will probably be smaller and therefore less expensive, and the BRA expects to loosen regulations on accessory units as another means of providing low-cost housing. The city expects that a flood of housing supply will put downward pressure on rent.
“The city is absolutely doing everything it can to address affordability,” said the BRA’s John Dalzell.
Residents were skeptical, and many voiced concerns about the ability of lower-income residents to remain part of the neighborhood.
Some residents were just as concerned with the architectural character of the neighborhood.
“We want to retain some of the physical character as well as the people character,” said Weezy Waldstein, who saw not enough resemblance between the current neighborhood and PLAN JP/Rox.
Character will be better preserved under the new zoning regime, argued advisory group member Anne Barrett, especially if it is enforced strictly.
“By specifying some areas where we can have high density, we can prevent developers from applying for variances,” she said.
Developers are easily able to work around current zoning with variances, rendering zoning regulations effectively meaningless, some argued. David Baron, a member of the advisory group and chair of the JPNC Zoning Committee, wants enforcement of zoning rather than “zoning by variance.” Dan Thomas, another member of the advisory group, said, “We are not happy with the way developers are interpreting the guidelines.”
More density will likely become necessary in the near future, as JP/Rox is buffeted by larger forces than neighborhood associations and change-averse residents. People all over the world are moving to cities, said Dazell, and Boston is not exempt from this global trend. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council forecast the city would need 53,000 new housing units for its growing population. “What we are trying to do here is accommodate that growth,” he said of the plan.
The BRA will be meeting with more community groups through the summer, with another open house presentation of a new draft plan in September. The final document is expected this October.