New Zoning Ordinance Makes Historic Splash for Development Requirements

Councilor Lydia Edwards is championing a zoning victory this week, noting that it is a behind the scenes change that would look to make the City a more equitable and fair place moving forward into the “new normal.”

The Fair Housing amendment has been accepted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) after a working session last week at the City Council, and Edwards said it is an historic first.

She said, in short, it will require developers coming into a community like Charlestown to demonstrate their project is helping the community become more integrated, more diverse, more friendly to seniors looking for homes, and a host of other requirements that will be part of any standard development review.

So, now when a developer is going through the Article 80 process for zoning and such, not only will they have to satisfy reviews for transportation and design, but also for equity and fairness.

“This is the first time we’ve required that from a developer and it is historic,” she said. “It’s taking the community review process and making developers prove they are making the City better. Zoning has done the opposite. It’s made us more segregated…Our zoning policy in the past has made us less integrated and has concentrated resources in one place while leaving others to the winds. It’s the first in the country to do that and it’s extremely important to my district.

“Monument Street is two different planets and it has everything to do with zoning and planning – or lack thereof,” she continued.

The BPDA said it will codify requirements removing barriers to housing choice,  affirmatively furthering fair housing, and addressing displacement. Councilor Edwards first introduced such an amendment in April 2019. When approved by the Zoning Commission later this year, the amendment will be the first of its kind in the country.

Edwards said this new policy, upon being adopted, will apply to the Bunker Hill Housing Redevelopment, the PLAN Charlestown process and any other development coming into the Town.

She said one important caveat for Charlestown is that it will apply to large Planned Development Areas (PDAs) like Hood Park. When they come back in to build more within their plan, they will have to go through the Fair Housing process.

“They always come back for a change and when they come back for a change, they will have to do this analysis,” she said.

In 2017, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Community Advisory Committee was established to examine the city’s efforts to further fair housing opportunities. On June 6, 2020 the committee held a town hall during which it released its report after three years of research. One of the group’s recommendations was codifying equity into the zoning code.

“This has been a long time coming for many advocates who have fought this fight for many years,” said Lincoln Larmond, a member of the committee and a member of the Boston Tenant Coalition. “This is a big victory for the City of Boston. Inequity has previously been codified through zoning. This amendment is an opportunity for us to begin to correct that.”

Another working session will be scheduled in the coming weeks to finalize the amendment after which the City Council will vote on it and send it to the Zoning Commission for final approval.

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