It’s been a crazy week, but I am glad to have a few minutes to commend to WalkUP Rozzie Nation a rather perceptive opinion piece by Dante Ramos in last Sunday’s Globe. In “Give Boston better zoning – just not yet,” Dante works in a St. Augustine reference while describing the interesting extended transition period that we are now seeing as far as regulation of development goes around here. My top two money quotes:
First, as to the widespread nature of the disconnect between the city we’ve been zoned for and the one we actually have:
From West Roxbury to the harbor, in reasonable cases and in potentially problematic ones, developers are seeking relief from land-use rules and other limits. Existing zoning in Boston was designed to be restrictive — partly out of fears of new development and partly to give the city leverage over builders — but the current rules haven’t always kept up with the times.
And second, how we find a way forward while new, better regulations are formulated in the midst of a massive building boom generated, for the first time in decades, not just by a kind of real estate musical chairs but by real population growth:
Until the city has more workable land-use rules, it needs a clearer, more explicit theory to justify the exceptions that it grants. Personally, I’d argue that, in deciding how much leeway to grant developers, the city should be dovish on height and density, assiduous about promoting attractive design and climate-change readiness, and hawkish about lively street life, retail diversity, and the public realm. (That’s especially true in the Seaport — where there are lots of sit-down restaurants but almost nowhere to buy a pack of gum or a pair of jeans.)
I think I like Dante’s formulation (and he’s right about the Seaport), but with the major caveat that I think the de facto development policy is to be found in Housing a Changing City, the housing forecast that the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development released in the fall of 2014. In that report, it was made abundantly clear that housing production had to speed up – a lot – if the city was to build the 53,000 new units by 2030 needed to keep some kind of pace with the rather new phenomenon of significant population growth in Boston. I think it’s accurate to say that the Walsh Administration has taken that imperative very seriously and has acted on it and will be acting on it for some time to come.