By Michael Coughlin Jr.
On Thursday, Mar. 30, the Boston Planning Development Agency (BPDA) unveiled a new hybrid scenario to Charlestown residents concerning zoning in the areas of Sullivan Square and the Rutherford Corridor.
In May and June of last year, the BPDA proposed two scenarios for updated zoning in Charlestown. Scenario one focused on “Jobs and Connections,” while scenario two emphasized “Housing and Open Space.”
Since last summer, the BPDA has taken feedback from those previously presented scenarios to create a hybrid iteration of its plans for Charlestown. This new iteration focuses on changes to land use, density, open space, and connections.
Regarding land use, the proposal focuses on adding residential and mixed-use areas while limiting office or lab space. There were no additions to industrial land use in this proposal.
The proposed residential areas are placed along the neighborhood’s edge, at the waterfront, and near transit areas.
“An important point here is that we don’t just mean housing in these areas. These are residential areas that should allow for shops and services on the ground floor in order to serve residents and to create vibrant, walkable, and new neighborhoods in Charlestown,” said Andrew Wald, an Urban and Community Designer for Interboro Partners – an architectural design firm that consulted with the BPDA on the hybrid scenario.
Mixed-use areas would mostly be placed further west of Rutherford Avenue near transit areas and Hood Park, among other places. While new office or lab space areas would be relegated to space closer to the highway and along the industrial edge.
When talking about density, Wald indicated how polarizing a topic it was in terms of the feedback the BPDA received from its previous two scenarios.
He said, “So, looking at the surveys, people had a lot to say about density – it’s both good and bad.”
This new hybrid scenario proposes that density and building height would increase as you move closer to the highway. As an example, Wald showed a slide that depicted buildings closest to the highway that could range as tall as 350 feet and 19 stories and would gradually reduce as you got closer to Rutherford Avenue.
Although there would be an increase in density in this part of the neighborhood, Wald explained that useable green space would also increase.
“So, even though we’re saying that, you know, we’re increasing density, we’re also increasing the amount of usable public green spaces in this neighborhood,” said Wald.
“This is one of the exciting things about this proposed scenario is with new construction also comes the opportunity to develop new parks and open spaces.”
The proposal would create around 28 acres of new open space, including greenways, a waterfront park, three large parks, and several smaller neighborhood parks.
“We’re also recommending that new developments include publically accessible green space on their sites in order to enhance the public realm, but also to improve stormwater capture and reduce urban heat island effects,” said Wald.
As for connections, there were several changes proposed in this hybrid iteration. There would be an improvement of crossing along Rutherford Avenue and several new main and service streets created – mainly west of Rutherford Avenue.
Regarding public transit, the plan proposes adding three new shuttle services that would “Link Charlestown and the Navy Yard directly to the Orange and Green lines, as well as service to North Station, to Encore, and to the airport,” said Wald.
Also, the plan would include more high-frequency bus service and even commuter rail service at Sullivan Square station. Several bike lanes would also be included in the plan.
In addition to working with Interboro Partners as a consultant, the BPDA also partnered with Nelson\Nygaard, a transportation planning company, to analyze the effects this plan would have on transportation in Charlestown.
Previous iterations of PLAN: Charlestown caused some transportation problems observed by Nelson\Nygaard, such as overcapacity on high-frequency bus routes and areas like the Alford Street and Gilmore bridges along with Mystic Avenue – key gateways in and out of the neighborhood.
However, this new hybrid iteration includes recommendations from Nelson\Nygaard that affected the plan’s land use and transportation service aspects to quell those concerns.
Land use changes included reducing the neighborhood’s office and lab space and the allowed square footage for new development. At the same time, the transportation changes included a silver line extension from Chelsea to Sullivan Square, more frequent bus service, and the commuter rail service mentioned above.
“In terms of the land use changes – this had a significant impact – a significant improvement in terms of reducing vehicle trips by 10 to 12% during both the a.m. and p.m. peak periods – so very pleased with those findings,” said Jason Novsam, a Senior Associate with Nelson\Nygaard.
“We see that a larger share of trips are shorter and much more likely to be completed by walking, biking, or transit – again – with less office and lab space, we’re pulling in less commuters from further regions of the Boston area, and we see the key gateways Mystic Avenue, Cambridge Street, Gilmore Bridge being much more able to support the proposed evolvement.”
When speaking about how the additional transit service recommendations would affect Charlestown, Novsam indicated that they created more demand for ridership and would eliminate capacity issues they had previously observed.
It should be noted that these analyses were done with assumptions that include the proposed PLAN: Charlestown street networks, that the Orange Line has been improved and is running every six minutes during peak hours, the MBTA bus network redesign has been fully implemented, the three newly proposed shuttle services are implemented, and the reconfiguration of Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue is complete.
Overall, while several residents voiced their concerns about the plans, others were a fan of the proposal, and there will be several ways to provide feedback in the coming weeks.
The BPDA will hold a month-long comment period on this scenario, including various office hours at the Charlestown Public Library, a meeting at the CNC, and tabling throughout the community.
Residents can visit: https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/plan-charlestown to view the recorded presentation and slideshow, learn more about the next steps, and fill out a survey with feedback.