WUR Housing Chair Rob Orthman’s Letter in the Roslindale Bulletin re 4198 Washington Street

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.

Robert Orthman
Roslindale

4198 Washington Street Mixed Use and Affordable Housing Project Rejected by Zoning Board of Appeal Due to Lack of Parking

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:

  1. Less space for affordable housing
  2. Less space for community amenities like the Rozzie Square Theater
  3. 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 (david.vittorini@nullboston.gov)
  • Ms. Uju Onochie, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (uju.onochie@nullboston.gov)

City Council contacts:

  • District 4 City Councilor-Elect Brian Worrell (brianworrellre@nullgmail.com)
  • District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (ricardo.arroyo@nullboston.gov)
  • District 6 City Councilor-Elect Kendra Hicks (hicksfordistrictsix@nullgmail.com)
  • At-Large City Councilor Julia Mejia (julia.mejia@nullboston.gov)
  • At-Large City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty (michael.flaherty@nullboston.gov)
  • At-Large City Councilor-Elect Ruthzee Louijeune (info@nullruthzeeforboston.com)
  • At-Large City Councilor-Elect Erin Murphy (erinforboston@nullgmail.com)

Comment letter on 4011-4019 Washington Street

4011-4019 Washington Street Rendering
4011-4019 Washington Street Rendering

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.

Our full letter is below, also available as a PDF. More information is available on the BPDA project page.

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District 5 Councilor Ricardo Arroyo’s Statement of Support on 4198 Washington

We’ve posted on this topic previously and have expressed our own support in a comment letter earlier this year and now we’re gratified to see the following statement from District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in support of the proposed project, released earlier today and quoted here in full:

“Today a project by Arx Urban at 4198-4206 Washington Street in Roslindale goes before the BPDA Board.
“I am in full support of this project.
“This project sets important benchmarks that are in line with the values and priorities I believe developments in our neighborhoods should have and should promote. At least 40% of the units will be income restricted between 30-90% Area Median Income and the developers are seeking to and have stated publicly that their goal is to eventually have 100% of the unit’s income restricted. The city currently only mandates 13%.
“This project will be sustainably built. A 100% electric building, with solar power, approaching Passive House standards. While also widening sidewalks around the property and creating a courtyard with greenspace on Washington Street. They have also entered partnerships with two local businesses with long term, below market leases and will showcase the Rozzie Square Theatre, an already existing wMBE business, that will invite innovation in the arts and provide a forum for diverse voices.
“Arx Urban has also taken meaningful steps to engage the community and implement feedback. They’ve reduced the height to four stories from an initial seven. Set the building back from the Sumner School by 51’ and collaborated with the school on a mural and improv classes. They have also agreed to several measures to improve pedestrian experiences and safety.
“I have heard from opponents who are most staunchly opposed to this project because it lacks onsite parking. And while I believe that is a valid concern, I believe it is outweighed by the truly transit oriented nature of Roslindale Square. I believe in prioritizing the housing of people and a project like this, that provides truly affordable housing on this scale, makes that goal available to those who most need it.
“Our city has been, and continues to be, in a housing crisis that has been headlined by displacement and a lack of truly affordable housing. As a Councilor I will continue to advocate for projects that make remedying that issue, with strong commitments to income restricted units, a priority.”

Comment Period re-Opened for 4198 Washington Street and Drop-In Session This Monday Evening

We’ve previously publicized our support for the proposed mixed-use project at 4198 Washington Street — see our detailed comment letter here.

We recently learned that the BPDA has responded to some efforts to organize against this project by re-opening and extending the comment period for this proposal to May 3rd. We strongly encourage supporters of this project to submit comments through the BPDA portal or to aisling.kerr@nullboston.gov.

As a reminder, this project will provide a new six-story, mixed-use building with 39 residential units, 4,500 square feet of retail, a custom-built community theater space, as well as ample bicycle parking. We have heard the project may be down-sized by a story and shrunk to fewer units due to some opposition. We strongly urge the developer to not “down-size” the building and recommend supporters submit similar comments to the BPDA.

The developer Arx Urban is seeking to income-restrict at least 40% of the units in the new building. Only 12% of the total housing stock in Roslindale is income-restricted, compared to 27% of total homes citywide. While we are generally supportive of new housing in Roslindale Square, we are particularly supportive of this project for that reason. We also do not want to see a smaller project given the loss of income-restricted units that would entail.

The developer is hosting a drop-in session to answer any remaining questions this Monday, April 26 evening in Adams Park from 5:30pm-7:30 pm. Please wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Attendees can receive a free yogurt or ice cream from Delicious Yogurt for their trip home too!

WalkUP Roslindale comment letter on 4198 Washington Street

This past week, the BPDA held a public meeting on a proposed development at 4198 Washington Street, the building currently home to Droubi’s Pita Bakery, Rozzie Square Theater, Delicious Yogurt, and Dragon Chef. The developer proposes to replace the building with a new six-story, mixed-use building with 39 residential units, 4,500 square feet of retail, a custom-built community theater space, as well as ample bicycle parking. The meeting was well-attended and many neighbors praised the developer’s thoughtful approach to affordability and transportation. Now that we’ve learned more about the proposal and heard comments from the community, we’ve sent in a comment letter. If you’d like to add your voice, please drop a note to the BPDA project manager, Aisling Kerr (aisling.kerr@nullboston.gov) or fill out the BPDA comment form.

Our PDF letter is reproduced in full below.

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Public Meeting on 4198 Washington Street Development this Wednesday, February 24, 2021, at 6pm, via Zoom

Rendering of 4198 Washington Street Proposed DevelopmentWe’ve been following a proposed development at 4198 Washington Street (the building that is currently home to Droubi’s Pita Bakery, Rozzie Square Theater, Delicious Yogurt, and Dragon Chef) with interest. The developer proposes to replace the building with a new six-story, mixed-use building with 39 residential units, 4,500 square feet of retail, a custom-built community theater space, as well as ample bicycle parking. The BPDA is holding a virtual public meeting this Wednesday, February 24, 2021, from 6pm-7:30pm to discuss the proposal and receive feedback. You’ll need to register in order to attend.

We are generally in favor of the project since it will provide much-needed housing right in the heart of Rozzie Square, without creating the induced demand for more cars that would occur with dedicated parking spaces. We also understand that the developer is working to secure funding that would allow it to income-restrict at least 40% of units, a goal we support enthusiastically. We look forward to hearing more about the project at this upcoming meeting, after which we plan to send a comment letter with our collective feedback.

We encourage everyone who would like to see more housing (without more cars) in Roslindale to attend and speak up at this meeting.

Support housing stability legislation before time runs out at the end of July

Housing advocacy is part of WalkUP Roslindale’s mission so we are speaking up to urge our supporters to help get a pending housing stability bill passed before the legislative session runs out at the end of July. House Bill 5166 and Senate Bill 2992 would, among other things, extend the moratoriums on evictions and foreclosure for a year after the COVID state of emergency ends. Please email or call both your representative and senator to support this important legislation — and please do so quickly! You can find your legislators by address at this website.

More background:

WalkUP Roslindale Comment Letter on 3992-3996 Washington Street

3992-3996 Washington Street Rendering
3992-3996 Washington Street Rendering

This week, we sent a comment letter on a proposed 18-unit housing development at 3992-3996 Washington Street, about halfway between Roslindale Square and Forest Hills at the intersection of Archdale Road near Guira y Tambora. While we are always happy to welcome new housing to the neighborhood to help mitigate the region-wide housing crisis, the proposed development suffers from similar shortcomings of many other recent proposals — too much valuable land dedicated permanently to car storage, insufficient commitment to affordability and needed density, and only minimally compliant green-building efforts. We still support the overall project, but hope that the City and developers will not miss this opportunity to build for the 21st century, rather than the 20th. Immediate and major change in how we plan land use and transportation decisions are critical to achieving the vision set out in GoBoston 2030 and the greater Imagine Boston 2030 plan.

Our detailed comments below (PDF version also available).

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