BPDA Announces ‘Planning Study’ for Charlestown; Stops Short of ‘Master Plan’

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) announced this week that they will enter into a ‘Planning Study’ for Charlestown in 2020, with that announcement coming just one week after the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) and other organizations called on the Agency to conduct a Master Plan of the Town.

The CPS call last week was also supported by the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC).

On Tuesday, the BPDA said they are committed to a planning effort along the Rutherford Avenue Corridor. That announcement was brought about through a mitigation commitment from Hood Park to pay $150,000 towards the costs of the overall Planning Study.

“The (Hood) funding has been facilitated by the BPDA through the public process for the Hood Park Master Plan Notice of Public Change. These planning efforts will focus on the Rutherford Avenue Corridor, including the publicly-owned parcels, and will likely kick-off in 2020,” read a statement from the BPDA. “The BPDA is also moving forward with various other efforts throughout Charlestown to preserve historic resources while planning for an evolving and growing neighborhood.”

Part of the call last week from the CPS involved protecting the core neighborhood, while planning for the edges. That seems to be what the BPDA is poised to do – planning in areas that are seeing large growth pressures. However, the CPS also wanted to see a potential Landmarks District in the core neighborhood of Charlestown.

The BPDA said on Tuesday that due to the historical significance of Charlestown, much of the neighborhood already falls under Neighborhood Design Overlay District zoning, which the BPDA said has some of the most stringent design requirements in the City of Boston’s zoning code.

The BPDA didn’t commit to a Landmarks designation, but said staff are going to review the zoning and recent zoning decisions.

“BPDA staff is reviewing the current zoning and analyzing recent Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) data,” read the BPDA statement. “If it is determined that certain sections of Charlestown need additional protections, the BPDA will work with neighborhood stakeholders to make the necessary updates.”

The early sentiment in the neighborhood on the heels of the announcement was mixed, particularly with CPS. In comments to the paper, organizers at the CPS said they were disappointed it wasn’t going to be a Master Plan, and that the current zoning hasn’t offered much protections for historic properties – some of which have been lost or threatened.

“The Rutherford Avenue study mentioned by the BPDA is a focused planning study, not a community Master Plan,” they wrote. “It looks at a specific area and specific projects. It is not a comprehensive study and it does not provide a framework for community growth. CPS is concerned that yet another BPDA-focused study of a few parcels in the neighborhood funded by a developmental interest will further distract the limited resources required to complete a comprehensive Master Plan. The development of even a single block within this neighborhood has significant impact on all of those who live within our one square-mile community.”

Councilor Lydia Edwards said she was glad to see planning, but it is important to find out exactly what kind of planning.

“I applaud efforts that put planning before development,” she said. “I would prefer that we didn’t have to wait for major development to get necessary planning. But the fact of the matter is Charlestown needs a plan for the entire square mile.  We need a plan that protects the inner core and addresses all the impacts of the major projects on the periphery. So any planning study that does not protect the inner core and does not deal with the entire periphery is incomplete and potentially harmful.”

CPS was also concerned about one of the major funding sources for the announced plan being a major developer within the study area.

“We are concerned that the $150,000 of mitigation funds promised to the BPDA for another focused study will effectively support the interests of the contributing developer and not the residents of Charlestown who seek and have not been afforded a comprehensive master plan,” they said in their statement. “We ask the BPDA to study Charlestown in its entirety with input from the entire community. Mitigation funds should directly benefit the community, not a government agency. Should the BPDA accept and utilize these funds, the greatest benefit to the community would be funding a comprehensive Master Plan.”

The BPDA said the planning study would also rope in many of the major studies that have been done recently. Those include the Boston 2030 plan, the first citywide Master Plan in 50 years, and others as well.

“In recent years the BPDA has served as a partner in planning efforts that have looked at Charlestown and the surrounding neighborhoods led by groups such as the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group, the Mystic River Watershed Association, MassDOT and the Boston Transportation Department (BTD),” they said.

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