Zoning Commission denies hurried amendment allowing conversation on taller buildings at Hood

In a show of force by the Charlestown community at City Hall, neighbors stood in formation with City Councilor Lydia Edwards on Wednesday morning to toss a zoning amendment that would have allowed Hood Park to propose buildings as tall as 330 feet.

Currently, no such buildings are proposed and the zoning is a Planned Development Area (PDA) that doesn’t allow Hood to propose any building taller than 115 feet. The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and Hood Park had hoped to get the ability to bring taller projects to the community in the future.

The BPDA Board voted in favor of the amendment on a positive recommendation from Director Brian Golden at its March Board meeting.

But the brakes stopped at the Zoning Commission Wednesday, April 11, when a healthy and vocal group of Town residents spoke out against the matter. Rarely does the Commission see such a turnout for a zoning amendment, and that was noted by members of the Commission and by Councilor Edwards.

Edwards and the community organized to make sure the Commission heard the opposition from the community Wednesday.

“It’s like they were trying to sell us a car and we didn’t want a car and they continued to want to know what color of car we wanted,” Edwards said. “No one in Charlestown wants this. I’ve said that…This is corporate driven. It’s for the corporate interests of Indigo. The fact they would advance a corporate interest and say they are doing it within a community process is insulting.”

Members of the Commission commented that the amendment was tantamount to spot zoning.

Mark Rosenshein, a partner with Trademark Partners, LLC, said on behalf of Hood that said they would like to have an open dialog on height and will continue to work toward that goal.

“The owners of Hood Park will continue to listen to and respond to the community concerns about future height at the park while at the same time balancing the needs of tenants and residents,” he said in a statement. “We have always indicated that we want to have an open dialogue about potential height at Hood Park but currently are unable to do so because of the zoning cap. We look forward to continuing to work with the Zoning Commission and Boston Planning and Development Agency to further this conversation.”

Along with Edwards, community leaders like Elaine Donovan, Mary Boucher, Ivy St. John, Diane Valle, Kelly Tucker, Robert Benson, Bill Lamb and many others.

“I think they were actually surprised to see so many of us come out,” said Edwards. “I don’t think they were accustomed to that and they couldn’t look us in the face and vote for it.”

Tenants of Hood Park also spoke in favor of the amendment to allow discussion of taller buildings via letters, including Cambridge College, Indigo and other tenants. All of the letters provided to the Patriot Bridge, however, were identical with no differing comments.

“The owners of Hood Park have demonstrated their commitment to engage with the neighborhood residents and businesses, evolve their plans to incorporate feedback, and work with all of the stakeholders to ensure that Hood Park grows in a responsible manner,” they all read.

It was really nothing new, however, that Charlestown was against the amendment. 

For residents, what was astonishing was the fact that the matter got so far, with the Zoning Commission vote being the only hurdle left to clear. The astonishment came, residents said, due to the fact that a public meeting on March 12 at the Schrafft’s Building brought about universal opposition. Virtually everyone in attendance at the meeting said they did not want the amendment.

“We do not want this,” said Bill Lamb at that meeting on March 12. “Absolutely not.”

Somehow, though, that opposition got lost in the shuffle as the BPDA Board voted in favor of the matter a few days later. That vote took it to the Zoning Commission forWednesday’s hearing. 

Even with the denial, though, the BPDA has the right to come back before the Zoning Commission two more times. If they do not have success in those additional two times, if they indeed bring it back, the matter will die.

All of that said, elected officials in the Town like State Rep. Dan Ryan and Councilor Edwards said Hood is a major landowner and something new has to be done to their zoning. The PDA was hashed out in the late 1990s and put into place in 2000, making it very dated.

Ryan said Wednesday’s denial was a victory for the process working for the people, but it was only a delay in the conversation that needs to happen about building height.

“It appears concerned Charlestown voices were heard today at the Zoning Commission,” he said. “This is further evidence that our new community processes, implemented under the Walsh administration, are working.

This development is not going away though. We have a major land owner, with an emerging internationally recognized company as a tenant, sitting on a master plan to build. The neighborhood discussion needs to continue. Something will be built at Hood Park. Today’s vote only delays the opportunity for the developer to have further discussions about height, transit-oriented development and neighborhood amenities. The projects outside our borders that are walling us in have had these discussions for 20 years. We are playing catch-up.” 

Edwards agreed, saying that the denial was not an anti-development sentiment, but rather a lashing out of the hurried process on this one issue. She said she agrees that the zoning needs to be looked at.

“The people in Charlestown on Wednesday didn’t say ‘no,’” she said. “What they said is if there are going to be changes, the community should be leading that process…I will go on records right now saying we need to re-examine the height restrictions. That’s not a question for me. It’s just that you can’t do it to benefit a corporate interest and say you’re doing it to allow a community process.”

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