BRA to create a citywide master plan

The Boston Redevelopment Authority soon will begin creating the first citywide land-use master plan in more than a half-century, spokesperson Nick Martin told the Gazette. The effort will tie into smaller-scale neighborhood plans as well—including a long-awaited plan for Jamaica Plain’s Washington Street corridor.

“It’s really sort of a monumental effort on our part,” Martin said, explaining that the BRA is still working out details of both internal and public processes. But the process will begin this year, and more details should be known in coming weeks.

The idea of a citywide master plan was tainted by the “urban renewal” era of the 1940s to 1960s, when the BRA demolished entire neighborhoods for various projects. Former Mayor Thomas Menino strongly opposed a citywide plan during his 20 years in office.

But in recent years, there have been calls in JP and other neighborhoods for more master planning to coordinate development. Mayor Martin Walsh has ordered long-term plans from various City agencies, all focused on crafting a vision of Boston in 2030, its 400th birthday.

The BRA 2014 annual report, published in January, declares an intention to “begin developing a comprehensive citywide master plan for the first time since 1964.”

That will coordinate with other 2030 plans, especially the City’s latest housing plan, Martin said.

A big X-factor is the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which is being conducted by the private organization Boston 2024 with Walsh’s blessing. The Olympics is largely being marketed as an urban master plan in its own right.

“We’re not planning specifically for the Olympics,” Martin said, emphasizing that the BRA’s master plan is separate from the bid.

The BRA’s position is that “our vision for the citywide master plan should be driving the Olympics, not the other way around,” Martin said. But, he added, the BRA is “a little bit boxed in” by the process and timeline of the International Olympics Committee, which will choose a winning city for the 2024 Games in 2017.

Meanwhile, other BRA planning efforts will be carried out “in parallel” to the master plan.

One idea, known variously as “strategic planning nodes” or “growth zones,” will create “more in-depth planning” at the neighborhood level, to reflect both local interests and the City’s own economic development goals, according to the annual report. Three to five of these neighborhood strategic plans will begin this year as well.

Martin said that one of them will be JP’s Washington Street corridor study. A boom of development and related gentrification controversies has led residents to call for BRA master planning there. The BRA has repeatedly indicated interest in conducting such a plan, and now is finally gearing up to do so.

But the idea is not just grassroots. Martin explained that the Washington Street corridor is also one of the areas Walsh wants to target for middle-income housing construction, an idea he floated in some recent speeches for an area in JP he did not specify.

In other broad effort, the BRA is reviewing City zoning codes with an eye toward simplifying and centralizing it into more of a citywide code.

Much of this work is being done by the BRA’s Planning Division. In yet another huge effort, that division is undergoing a massive independent review to see if it needs reforms. A report on that review is expected by the end of April, Martin said. It is a more specific version of the audit of the entire BRA that Walsh ordered last year, and that uncovered extensive record-keeping and money-tracking problems that, the BRA says, have been fixed or are in the process of being reformed.

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