The City of Boston is finalizing the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which begins on July 1, 2022. We intend to submit comments soon (ideas welcome!) but in the meantime we wanted to share this letter sent by Rick Yoder and WalkUP Board Member Lisa Beatman on behalf of the Mt. Hope Canterbury Neighborhood Association and the American Legion Corridor Coalition.
LOCATION CHANGED TO UPSTAIRS AT THE SUBSTATION – WASHINGTON & CUMMINS.
We encourage everyone to attend this coffee hour, meet the mayor and her staff, put names to faces, and let them know about your priorities and concerns. We hope to see YOU there. LINK TO: Mayor’s 2022 Coffee Hour in Roslindale.
Open Letter to Mayor Wu from WalkUP Roslindale
WalkUP Roslindale calls on Mayor Michelle Wu to appoint new members to the City of Boston Zoning Board of Appeal.
The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) membership is fundamentally opposed to the Mayor’s climate, transit, and housing justice agenda. In the past few months, the ZBA has rejected multiple new 4-story residential buildings proposed on Washington Street in or near Roslindale Square. This area has many existing 4-story buildings, is served by almost a dozen bus routes with dedicated rush hour lanes, and is less than a mile from the Forest Hills MBTA Station. In these rejections, ZBA members primarily insisted on additional car parking over more affordable units or improved commercial spaces for local businesses. These sorts of ZBA decisions are crippling the mayor’s stated agenda to incentivize developers to build affordable, mixed-use, transit-friendly projects in our neighborhood and across the city of Boston.
Forcing developers to dedicate more space to car storage exacerbates the housing crisis, makes new housing more expensive, and harms our community. Insisting on excessive off-street parking in new developments already well served by transit reduces the total possible number of housing units and particularly the number of income-restricted units built. In the most egregious recent example, we saw the ZBA reject a development at 4198 Washington Street which far exceeded the City’s mandated goals for income-restricted housing on site and would have provided new spaces to multiple small businesses owned by Asian-American proprietors. ZBA members wanted parking to replace both housing and commercial space on site. We have seen similar reasoning in other recent denials by the ZBA in Roslindale including, but not limited to, proposals at 4164 Washington Street and just last week at 4025 Washington Street. Some ZBA members demanded more parking on site and rejected the projects as too dense, an implausible assertion in a corridor full of similar three and four-story buildings.
These ZBA decisions are harming Roslindale, a neighborhood in desperate need of new housing. As active residents of this community, we have watched as housing prices and rents have continued to skyrocket in our neighborhood and across the city. We have participated in community processes for each of these proposed developments, attended meetings, submitted comment letters, and testified in support. These proposals have garnered strong support from the Boston Planning and Development Agency, local elected officials, and organizations. Nevertheless, all this work comes to a crashing halt once these proposals reach the ZBA. The ZBA is acting outside its scope, enforcing its own self-made transportation policy prioritizing vehicles over people, and at times seemingly acting with the individual interests of some members in mind. To that last point, we note that the ZBA chairwoman lives in Roslindale and has repeatedly voiced opposition to projects in Roslindale Square that, in her opinion, may adversely affect parking for unspecified members of the community. At this point, we cannot help but question these decisions and at times the motivations behind them.
The current decision-making process in this city for most development proposals is untenable. Rejection of such urgently needed mixed-use developments elevates the needs of cars above the needs of Boston’s residents — a 20th century view of development and the city that is out of step with the needs of today. By forcing developers to go back to the drawing board to add more parking to projects, we are sending the message that cars, and their associated human health, environmental, and social problems, still dominate over many more critical human priorities, most notably housing for people.
Mayor Wu has the power to appoint new members to the ZBA immediately, subject to City Council confirmation. Eleven of the thirteen members, including the chairwoman, are holdover appointments on expired terms from the prior mayoral administrations. While we understand the city has many pressing needs, surely the creation of new, transit-friendly housing must be high on that list. To that end, we call on Mayor Wu to nominate a new slate of ZBA members to the City Council who take a more holistic view of the city, understand its changing needs, and do not prioritize vehicle storage over homes for people.
Our current zoning regimen is fundamentally at odds with the needs of our city and neighborhood. The overly restrictive zoning effectively forces 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. Meanwhile, the cost of housing continues to skyrocket. We not only need a new ZBA, we need new zoning rules that facilitate by right the development of new, transit-friendly, and more affordable housing. We know and respect that the Mayor and city are undertaking a review of development processes and seeking a new Director of Planning for the city. While we support those efforts, we firmly believe a change in the makeup of the ZBA cannot wait for these processes to finish. Mayor Wu needs to act now to appoint new ZBA members who support her housing agenda and that of the voters who handed her a strong mandate to change the status quo in Boston.
WalkUP Roslindale Board of Directors
About WalkUP Roslindale:
WalkUP Roslindale, which takes its name from the international movement to foster “Walkable Urban Places,” is a collaborative group of Roslindale residents and business owners dedicated to making Roslindale the most walkable neighborhood in Boston. We advocate for a dynamic, livable streetscape and we support positive changes to our public and private built environment that strengthen walkability and other forms of active mobility as means toward better personal and public health, safety, social capital, economic development, and environmental sustainability. We are led by our board of directors and have over five hundred additional supporters. More information about WalkUP Roslindale and our initiatives can be found at walkuproslindale.org.
From time to time, specific street intersections come up for redesign and improvement to promote their safety. We understand that one such case is underway now for the intersection of South and Robert streets in the Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association‘s part of Roslindale, directly adjacent to Fallon Field. It’s an intersection that is used fairly frequently by folks on foot to access the playground and other facilities at Fallon, especially smaller children and their families. It also sports one of the more notorious slip lanes in the neighborhood, used by drivers to go from Robert onto South, with a stop sign that, based on this observer’s personal experience, is actually complied with less than 10% of the time. Thankfully, LANA have been advocating for many years for changes here and we understand that the Boston Transportation Department will be unveiling 25% design plans and seeking feedback this coming Monday evening, 14 March 2022, at LANA’s regular board meeting (which will also reportedly feature an appearance by new District 6 City Councilor Kendra Lara). You can sign up to attend the meeting HERE. Hope to see you there! mjl
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.
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!
It took some time, but the Cummins Missing Middle Walk Assessment Report has finally been released. The full report is below and also available as a PDF. We’ll be using this report to organize around and advocate for pedestrian and other non-auto safety improvements on this critical “link for people” in our neighborhood. Thanks!