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"Breaking some new ground"

by Erica  Bradley
Contributor
Thursday Sep 29, 2011
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Plan could transform the Corridor we know

The Harrison-Albany Corridor Strategic Plan is on its last leg, heading to the South End Landmarks District Commission in October for comment.

Short and long term goals were presented at the latest community-wide meeting of the Harrison-Albany Corridor Strategic Plan, with the focus being on changing zoning codes in the South End.

South End and area residents were given an opportunity to hear the vision, goals, and future plans of the Harrison-Albany Corridor Strategic Plan during the second community-wide meeting, held Sept. 20 at the Franklin Square House, 11 E. Newton St.

According to the draft, implementation of recommendations falls into two categories: short and long term. Short-term goals include new zoning and transportation projects, while long-term recommendations could span 15-20 years, depending on funding and cooperation with other entities, such as private property owners, the City of Boston, and the MBTA.

Mayor Menino formed the planning group in 2009; by splitting the Harrison-Albany corridor into four sections--New York Streets, SOWA, Back Streets, and the Medical Area-the Advisory Group and the Boston Redevelopment Authority have been able to articulate the needs for each area.

The New York Streets area is seen as prime development space due to its proximity to the expressway, downtown, and Chinatown. The current zoning codes allow for a building height of 70 feet, and the proposed changes would allow 100 feet or more in some areas of the corridor. The New York Streets area, for example, would be zoned up to 100 feet, while the Medical area would be zoned at 120 feet.

Michael Cannizzo, BRA senior architect, said incentives are being offered that would allow a developer to build from 150-200 feet high in certain sections of the corridor. Incentives include: affordable housing, cultural space, commercial space, or mixed-use projects. He said the City of Boston requires 15 percent affordable housing on all projects, and they are requiring 20 percent for the corridor.

"The idea is that the neighborhood is a pretty diverse neighborhood in terms of activity. We have housing, we have businesses. We felt it was important to provide a range of these uses," Cannizzo said. He continued to say they did not want to focus on housing or business development-they want to determine the best use for each area, which could include some zoning changes. "We’re breaking some new ground with this."

In addition, the BRA is proposing lot coverage, meaning a development would be limited to 80 percent of a parcel, using the other 20 percent for public ground. Public ground, Cannizzo said, could include a new street, alleyway, pedestrian walkway, or bike path. He said creating a new street to connect two other streets, or creating an alley for service vehicles are examples of public ground because it would alleviate some of the traffic on a major road. The new road would then be owned and maintained by the developer, not the City of Boston.

Several residents raised concerns about the proposed heights. One concern was the buildings casting large shadows over the area; another resident asked why the zoning heights changed per section.

Cannizzo responded by saying they wanted to keep the character of the area as intact as possible, and having higher buildings in the New York Streets area, which is close to the expressway and downtown, made sense. He also said the increased heights will help attract more developments.

Zoning will not prescribe what developments will look like, Cannizzo said, and only an estimated 12 lots are eligible for the proposed zoning changes.

"Something we might want to see today might not be valid five to ten years from now. We don’t want to box everyone in to things. We want to allow organic growth," Cannizzo stressed.
BRA representatives also discussed transportation issues in the corridor, including traffic and public transit. The area has many one-way streets that can cause congestion.

Several bus routes go through the corridor, but the goal would be to have more bus routes go down Harrison Ave., such as slightly shifting the route 8 line down Harrison.

Marie Mercurio, BRA senior planner, said the final draft of the plan would be available in October.

After the meeting, South End resident Chris Wells said the plan only has positive elements. "I think it’s only positive. To leave the New York Streets as is would be negative," she said.

To hear more about the Harrison Albany Corridor Strategic Plan Study, visit the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s website.The next meeting will be the South End Landmarks District Commission final plan presentation Oct. 4. The final plan will be available to the public in early October.

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