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)

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.”