Today we sent a letter to the Massachusetts State Legislature Joint Committee on Transportation supporting an act that would change the name of American Legion Highway to American Legion Parkway which we believe would send a better message about traffic safety, particularly when coupled with physical design changes and speed-limit enforcement. Our full letter is available as a PDF and reproduced below.
We remain incredibly disappointed in the ZBA’s decision denying zoning relief to the 4198 Washington Street project as this proposal, more than many, presented a stark choice between affordable housing and community amenities on the one hand, and passive private car storage on the other. We hope Mayor Wu will scrutinize this issue closely and exercise her right to appoint members who will not prioritize parking above other urgent needs or anoint themselves de facto transportation policy czars. In any event, we were pleased that the Roslindale Bulletin chose to print a letter this week from WalkUP Board Member and Housing & Development Chair Rob Orthman. The full text of Rob’s letter is reproduced below:
NEW MEMBERS OF THE ZBA WITH EXPERIENCE IS CRUCIAL
To the Editor:
Regarding the article in last week’s issue, ‘4198 Washington project fails for lack of parking’, we as a city are desperately in need of a new Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and overall zoning reform. The recent decision by the ZBA to deny a worthwhile project at 4198 Washington Street in Roslindale Square is just the latest example of why. This is a development with levels of income-restricted housing far exceeding the city minimum requirements. It includes new, enhanced spaces for a community theater and local yogurt shop; both businesses owned by Asian-Americans. The location is transit-rich, right on the rapid bus lane to and from Forest Hills and close to the commuter rail station. And yet, members of the ZBA pedantically only focused on a lack of on-site parking in evaluating the project merits. The board members put aside support from City Councilor Arroyo, the Mayor’s Office, and many residents, and instead gave voice to bad faith efforts put forward by some residents opposed to the project to pit business owners of color against one another in an effort to defeat the project. The ZBA and opponents seem to think parking is more important than anything else including desperately needed homes for people and better spaces for our small businesses. It belies basic logic to think customer parking would be negatively affected by this new building when customer spaces are signed for 2-hours; why would any resident leave their vehicle in a spot to get ticketed every day? Having new customers living a stone’s throw from our local businesses would only benefit our business district as is. To hear the board architect proclaim that the community theater could simply be moved to a different, smaller space in the building to accommodate underground parking was particularly shocking, as if she is in any position to tell a business owner what is best for their business or what kind of space they need.
Mayor Wu takes office with the vast majority of ZBA members as holdover appointments on expired terms from prior administrations. It is imperative to have new members of the ZBA appointed that understand we live in a growing city and need to get serious about building new housing, particularly income-restricted housing, and supporting our local businesses, especially owned by individuals of color, that want to stay and grow here. More broadly, we need zoning reform that stops requiring every single development proposal to go through endless community meetings and bureaucratic approvals that only benefit the opponents of progress like happened here. We need to move past this parking-above-else mentality that is stifling progress and keeping us stuck in a place that does not benefit anyone except those who simply oppose change, no matter how they disguise it.
Today, in advance of this Sunday’s World Day of Remembrance, we joined our many partner organizations in the Vision Zero Coalition to demand that the Massachusetts legislature pass several bills that will prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries due to unsafe streets. On Sunday morning, members of the Coalition will lay down over 4,000 yellow blossoms on the steps of the State House — one blossom to represent each life impacted by a fatal or serious traffic crash in 2020 and 2021. The memorial will be there throughout the day for people to lay down their own flowers. You can help support our efforts with any of these actions:
- Stop by the Vision Zero memorial display at the State House on Sunday, November 21st.
- Look up at any of the following structures on Sunday night that will be lit up in yellow: Zakim Bridge, Longfellow Bridge, Burns Memorial Bridge, Fore River Bridge, Boston City Hall, and Government Center MBTA Station.
- If you live in Springfield (or know people who do), advocates are organizing a vigil to honor members of the community who have been lost to traffic violence this year. You can also hold your own vigil in your town or city to honor those who have been lost to traffic violence in your community.
- Call on the MA Legislature to take action on important road safety legislation by using this letter template. You can find your legislators and their contact info here.
Our letter to the legislature is reproduced in full below.
We are extremely disappointed to report that the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) today rejected the zoning relief application for the 4198 Washington Street development proposal. This project has transformative potential for our community, checking all the boxes for what 21st-century neighborhoods urgently need. 40% of the units would have been reserved for lower income residents, significantly exceeding the usual affordability parameters. The project would have included a brand-new, larger space for the Rozzie Square Theater (Boston’s only improv establishment owned and operated by a woman of color), as well as enhanced commercial ground-floor spaces for Delicious Yogurt and other commercial tenants. As a result of the ZBA denial, these positive community impacts are now much further away, if they ever materialize at all.
Perhaps most important to WalkUP Roslindale’s core mission, this proposal would have leveraged its highly transit-oriented location along the Washington Street dedicated bus/bike lane in the heart of our neighborhood’s walkable commercial center, which we believe readily justified the lack of on-site parking. Moreover, the developer had pledged to subsidize CharlieCards for residents and secured leases for off-street parking for up to 20 cars within a half mile of the site. Despite the support of several elected officials who spoke in favor of this project, including our district councilor Ricardo Arroyo, three members of this 7-person board, including two administrative hold-overs (notably including the Roslindale-resident chair of the Board), voted against the project specifically due to its substitution of more affordable units and improved ground floor space in lieu of on-site parking. It is deeply regrettable that under the current zoning regime, a 4-3 vote in favor of a project means the zoning relief is rejected.
In our view, the current decision-making process in this city for most projects is untenable. Rejection of such urgently needed mixed-use development elevates the needs of cars above the needs of Boston’s residents — a 20th century view of development that is out of step with the needs of today. By forcing the developer to go back to the drawing board despite strong support both from the community and many elected leaders, we are sending the message that cars, and their associated human health, environmental, and social problems, still dominate over many more critical human priorities. Finally, forcing the developer to dedicate more space to car storage necessarily means:
- Less space for affordable housing
- Less space for community amenities like the Rozzie Square Theater
- More motor vehicle use in our neighborhood, with commensurate increases in traffic and pollution. Once parking spots are built, they tend to be filled, and there is no way to “unbuild” that space, even as we look to a future that must be much less car-centric.
Unfortunately, under current law, the developer cannot come back to the ZBA for an entire year. These sorts of rejections and long delays severely disincentivize developers from developing affordable, mixed-use, transit-friendly projects like this project in our neighborhood and, indeed, everywhere in Boston.
In the meantime, we have our work cut out for us. Our zoning system is fundamentally at odds with the needs of our city and neighborhood, effectively forcing everything through a zoning relief process that is tilted toward preserving the status quo at a moment in time when the status quo desperately needs to be changed, especially as it relates to our relationship with individual motor vehicle use and ownership. Supporters who believe that we need to move in a new direction and stop prioritizing cars over people should write to their district and at-large city councillors (addresses below) as well as Mayor Wu, who took office just today, and advocate for (i) the kind of forward-thinking development policies and regulation that she supported in the campaign and that would, in turn, support projects like 4198 Washington Street and (ii) new appointments to the ZBA who will put community and affordability ahead of car storage.
Mayor Wu contacts:
- Mr. David Vittorini, Senior Advisor to the Mayor (email@example.com)
- Ms. Uju Onochie, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (firstname.lastname@example.org)
City Council contacts:
- District 4 City Councilor-Elect Brian Worrell (email@example.com)
- District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- District 6 City Councilor-Elect Kendra Hicks (email@example.com)
- At-Large City Councilor Julia Mejia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- At-Large City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty (email@example.com)
- At-Large City Councilor-Elect Ruthzee Louijeune (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- At-Large City Councilor-Elect Erin Murphy (email@example.com)
Back in October, we submitted a short comment letter expressing conditional support for the expansion and reconfiguration of the Scrub-a-Dub Car Wash at 565-569 American Legion Highway. As noted below, there are several design changes that would make this project more friendly to pedestrians — this is especially important given the proximilty of the K-8 Haley Pilot School.
Back in October, we submitted a comment letter supporting legislation that has been proposed up on Beacon Hill to allow for automated enforcement of bus lanes and speeding. The relevant bills are S1545, H2426, and H2494. We generally support these efforts and hope our state legislators will move forward with these and other measures to help reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by dangerous driving behavior. If we get any updates on any of these bills, we will publicize them here.
Our full letter is reproduced below. Please contact your own legislators and ask them to lend support as well!
Back in late August, we sent a comment letter on a proposed residential mixed-use development at 4011-4019 Washington Street. As we describe in detail below, we supported the project generally but encourage the developer (and the city) to do more to help advance affordability goals and energy efficiency.
More than six years have passed since WalkUP Roslindale was informally launched, growing out of some even more informally-organized community conversations. We recently decided it is time to make it official: we are proud to announce we are now incorporated as a Massachusetts nonprofit organization (technically “Walkable Urban Places Roslindale”, but you can still call us WalkUP Rozzie).
This newly-formed nonprofit is governed by a board of 23 Roslindale residents and business owners, most of whom were previously members of our “steering committee” before the incorporation. We are still working out our structures and processes, but we have elected an initial slate of officers and chartered two board subcommittees that should cover most of our mission. These are listed below:
- Officers (Executive Committee)
- President – Matt Lawlor
- Vice-President – Adam Kessel
- Secretary – Kathryn Ostrofsky
- Treasurer – Mandana Moshgathi
- Initial subcommittees
- Transportation (chaired by Adam Kessel)
- Housing & Development (chaired by Rob Orthman)
We’ve also selected board members to be “liaisons” or representatives to our various partners and elected officials, including each of the district city councilors covering Roslindale (4, 5, and 6), the Mayor’s office/Neighborhood Services, Roslindale Village Main Street, Roslindale Leaders Meeting, Roslindale Business Group, and the Vision Zero Coalition taskforce.
Stay tuned for more announcements soon about our plans for the coming year.
Roslindale Arts Alliance is sponsoring Roslindale Porch Fest, this Saturday September 25, 2021 (rain date Sunday Sept. 26) from 1:30-5:30pm. Brochures are available at Square Root Coffee Shop. Rozzie Bikes is coordinating a group ride to a number of Porch Fest locations. If you’re interested, meet on the green at Adams Park at 1 PM (Helmet required). We hope everyone will get out and explore the porches of Roslindale by foot or by bike this weekend!