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Ideas aplenty at Roslindale Square visioning session

By Michael Coughlin Jr. 

On Tuesday, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) hosted a virtual visioning session to collect ideas for planning and zoning recommendations associated with the agency’s Squares + Streets initiative in Roslindale Square.  

According to the BPDA’s website, the Squares + Streets initiative is a “planning and zoning initiative focused on adding, supporting, and improving housing, public space, small businesses, and arts and culture in transit-accessible neighborhood centers and along main streets.”

To begin the visioning session, Eileen Michaud, a Project Manager at the BPDA, provided a general overview of Squares + Streets. 

Specifically, she discussed the criteria for determining where a Squares + Streets plan might be employed. These areas usually are transit-oriented areas, centers of neighborhoods, and commercial activity. They have a mix of uses and potential for growth and have not had recent planning. 

Michaud also detailed why there is a focus on Squares + Streets. “First and foremost… is to provide more housing to support Boston’s current and future residents… and not only do we want to provide more housing, we want to provide it in areas that residents will have access to everyday resources and services,” she said. 

Moreover, Michaud said plans are being developed in these Squares + Streets areas through zoning reform with new zoning districts and coordinated investments to address several needs. 

The goals of the initiative include updating zoning, creating, enhancing, or preserving affordable housing, retail, and cultural spaces, improvements to local transportation and public space, and more. 

Specifically, the study area for Roslindale Square is “a third of a mile around the main intersecting streets by Adams Park of South Street and Poplar Street,” per Michaud.

However, it should be noted that Michaud said, “The proposed map amendment that will bring new Squares + Streets zoning to this area will be determined with the community and will not include this entire area but a much smaller area within the one-third of a mile radius that focuses on bringing more mixed-use development where it’s appropriate.” 

Following Michaud’s overview, the visioning part of the meeting began. Attendees participated in activities associated with seven topics and provided feedback on what they would like to see in the aforementioned study area. 

The first topic discussed was housing, where attendees were asked to provide feedback on four questions. These questions focused on the types of units attendees would like to see for new residential developments, the level of affordability, how the city could use extra funds to assist in stabilizing current residents, and what benefits should be provided to tenants in buildings slated for demolition. 

In terms of unit size, those in attendance were more supportive of studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms. As for affordability, responses were all over the board, ranging from 30% of area median income (AMI) to market rate. 

As for the responses to the extra funds from the city question, attendees wanted to see subsidizing the production of more income-restricted housing, financial assistance to help those buying market-rate or income-restricted homes, and more.  

Attendees also wanted to see tenants facing demolition provided with housing search assistance, the right to remain in a unit and other services.

The next topic was small businesses. For example, attendees were asked what new businesses they would like to see first in Roslindale Square. There was widespread support for several businesses, such as restaurants, offices, retail, and more. 

Moreover, attendees made other suggestions for small businesses, such as an indoor playground, and some even requested that private off-street parking be reduced. 

There was also a discussion on how the city could support small businesses if it had extra money. Responses were widespread, supporting ideas such as providing grants or low-interest loans for small businesses to open in vacant storefronts, creating below-market-rate commercial spaces, and more. 

Arts and Culture was the third topic attendees provided feedback on. They were asked what types of art and culture establishments they would like to see first in the square. 

Establishments that focused on performative art and live music were supported, as was a movie theater. 

Attendees were also asked where establishments like the ones above could be supported in the study area. One comment was that Alexander the Great Park was underutilized and could be used for visual art. 

The question of where there could be improvements or activation of art and culture for current areas in Roslindale Square was broached. There were suggestions for using the commuter rail parking lot and Fallon Field. 

Attendees also addressed open space and resiliency. They responded to several prompts and provided ideas, such as a pedestrian connection from Adams Park to Birch Street, more activities in the Birch Street Plaza, and more. 

The meeting attendees also gave their thoughts on where and what type of programming for open spaces should be included in the planning area. There was support for community gardens, seating, trees, and more. 

Regarding transportation, the team pre-identified three focus area topics for transportation-related improvements. 

The first focus area concerns areas with complicated circulation, such as Firth and Bexley Roads and around Adams Park on Washington Street. 

Focus area two focused on skewed intersections. The intersections depicted during the meeting were the Belgrade Avenue intersections at Pinehurst and Amherst Streets and the Washington Street and Kittredge Street intersection. 

The third focus area detailed bus stops without amenities like shelters or benches, including the Washington and Albano Streets stop. 

In addition to the outlined focus areas, attendees suggested transportation improvements, such as bringing back a two-way road on Washington Street at Adams Park and more. 

The penultimate topic was built form and design, where attendees were given examples of buildings and provided feedback on their appearance and where they might fit in the Roslindale Square study area. 

Finally, to end the meeting, Maya Kattler-Gold of the BPDA outlined zoning — the Squares + Streets zoning districts — adopted this year. 

Specifically, there are six Squares + Streets zoning districts, S0 through S5. S0 is primarily residential, with the smallest floor plate, lot coverage, and the largest yards. It also conditionally allows some small active uses on the ground floor. 

S1 is also mostly residential, requires yards, and allows for small active uses. S2 has a lower lot coverage to require things like yards, requires outdoor amenity space, and will enable buildings to be built up to the lot line. 

In S3, the ground floor does not allow residential uses but requires active ground floor uses and outdoor amenity space. S4 also requires outdoor amenity space and active ground floor uses while having larger floorplates and more allowed uses on the top floors. 

Finally, S5 has the same allowed uses and required space for outdoor amenities and active ground floor uses as S4 but can allow for more density and new sustainable building practices. 

“As of now, they don’t exist anywhere in Roslindale — they haven’t been mapped anywhere,” said Kattler-Gold. 

“One of the outcomes we’re hoping will come out of the small area plan that we’re working through right now is to rezone Roslindale Square using these new zoning districts, and so the information that we’re getting from you during these visioning exercises… is a huge part of how we’ll figure out which of the districts should go in what part of Roslindale Square,” she added. 

Kattler-Gold also emphasized that everything in the study area would not be rezoned and that multiple districts would likely be used throughout the square. 

Regarding next steps, Michaud indicated the feedback from the meeting would “form the basis… for discussions with our city colleagues from a variety of departments on ways we can respond to community input through Squares + Streets small area plan recommendations.” 

She also indicated that the next round of engagement will be sometime in mid-summer. Ideas will be presented to the community and refined before draft recommendations are released later this summer. 

For those who would like more information on this process or to view the recording of this meeting, visit https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/roslindale-square.

Gazette Staff:
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