Lingering criticism for Plan: JP/Rox planning study; Jackson hits process

January 27, 2017
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Over 180 residents attended the most recent presentation of the Plan: JP/Rox plan on Jan. 18, many of whom publicly commented about where they believed there was still holes in the plan.

Meanwhile, City Councilor Tito Jackson, who recently launched his mayoral campaign, said the process behind the planning study was “flawed.”

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board is expected to vote on the planning study at either its February or March board meeting. The vote was originally supposed to take place in summer 2016, but has been postponed several times. The plan would need to be approved by the Zoning Commission as well before it is officially accepted.

Plan: JP/Rox is the long-awaited planning study for the Columbus Avenue and Washington Street corridor, from Jackson Square to Egleston Square to Forest Hills. The planning study was launched more than a year and a half ago, and will eventually create new zoning for the area.

Some updates to the plan have been made since its first debut, and the plan is now in its fourth draft. In this version, the density bonus plan will require developers to create 30 percent affordable housing, an increase from the previous plan’s 25 percent. Officials project that 40 percent of new housing will be income restricted. Density bonus housing would be at an average of 50 percent area median income, some higher and some lower. Some building heights limits were increased, such as from 55 feet to 65 feet at Columbus Avenue at Egleston Square, and from 45 feet to 55 feet, on the west side of Washington Street, north of Union Avenue. Density bonus area height maximums were decreased, such as from 55 feet to 45 feet along Green Street, and from 155 feet to 65 feet at the northern part of Arborway Yard.

Several stakeholders were invited to share their perspectives on the updated plan at the meeting. Some of the people represented organizations part of the Neighborhood Alliance. The Neighborhood Alliance is a coalition of existing neighborhood groups in the JP/Rox area and was created in 2016 as a network to share information of concern to its neighborhood communities. Last summer, Alliance members requested and coordinated a series of BPDA meetings with neighborhood groups regarding Plan: JP/Rox and has advocated for changes to the plan.

Marc Ebuna, representing Transit Matters, described his vision for the future of the study area: continuing to be a walking-oriented neighborhood.

“The reason people move here is because this is a walking neighborhood,” Ebuna said. “New development with retail will make our neighborhood that much more walkable. Specifically with parking, we know that with parking ‘if you provide it, they will come.’ We, as an advocacy group and your neighbors, are working with BPDA to instate parking maximums. We want to make sure that we’re not wasting space in a building that could be going to affordable housing.”

Luis Cotto, director of Egleston Square Main Street, advocated for the plan to have more language justice and more emphasis on small businesses.

“We need to make sure that the end result of this plan is translated into Spanish,” Cotto said. “The next time you ask the ‘community’ to come by, there is a base of knowledge that [Spanish speakers] have.”

Others issues that Cotto identified are putting more resources into small businesses, and creating an office of small business stability.

Danielle Sommer, a member of “Keep it 100 for Affordability and Racial Justice,” said that the plan needs to be more inclusive to diversity.

“Our city is stronger because of our racial and economic diversity, and as such, everyone deserves a place to live…and we deserve to live together because inclusionary integration has proven to improve the life outcomes of all, whether rich or poor, white or not,” he said.

Sommer said that claims of affordability through density are misleading.

“Is this just a performance, or are you actually listening to the people?” Sommers asked. “There can be more affordability built into the plan, and still encourage development, growth, and building.”

Others agreed that the area needs to be more affordable, but recommended different strategies.

“Rents haven’t gone up because we’re building market rate housing, the rents have gone up in spite of the fact that we’ve been building only affordable housing,” Tim Reardon, on the board of Egleston Square Main Streets said. “We need to build more market rate housing to release the pressure on all the existing stock that’s here right now.”

Reardon also said that building market rate housing would diversify the funds from which affordable housing would be built.

City Councilors Matt O’Malley and Jackson were in attendance at the meeting. The Gazette spoke with Jackson about his reactions to the JP/Rox planning process.

“I want to applaud the JP and Roxbury community: the coalition, the activists, and the community members, for stepping up to the BPDA. This was a flawed process from the beginning because it was focused on spot zoning for very valuable land based on developer demand, and not based on a comprehensive assessment of what the community needs,” said Jackson.

“Affordable housing planning must mirror the way in which you sell a house: you start high, and then you go low. We must model our values and our process and ensure that everyone’s voice is really heard, and that a plan is not put forward that is already baked,” Jackson continued. “I think we should all be disappointed by the way that BPDA structured this process. This started with an agenda and predetermined BPDA goals for developers, and not for the communities.”

The comment period for PLAN JP/Rox was slated to end on Jan. 25, after the Gazette deadline. For more information, visit bit.ly/2k1quTR.

 

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