BPDA Releases Final Draft of PLAN: Charlestown

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

Shortly following the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) release of the final draft of its neighborhood planning initiative — PLAN: Charlestown — the agency held a public meeting on Thursday, August 3, to give residents an overview of what is planned for their neighborhood.

The final draft of the PLAN: Charlestown document was released back on July 28 and is just over 220 pages containing seven chapters.

These chapters not only give an overview of the planning initiative and how it will be implemented but also outline recommendations for several aspects of Charlestown, including neighborhood needs, the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue planning framework, urban design guidelines, and the Navy Yard.

This planning initiative which kicked off in 2019, has gone through years of community engagement through listening tours, workshops, office hours, public meetings, and more.

Additionally, the plan is guided by a vision statement, which Jason Ruggiero, a Community Engagement Manager with the BPDA, read during last week’s meeting.

“In 2050, Charlestown is a thriving, diverse, accessible, and resilient neighborhood where residents can safely and more easily walk, bike, or bus to new plazas, parks, neighborhood amenities, and active waterfront areas,” read Ruggiero.

“These improvements unite an enhanced historic residential fabric with new homes and jobs which support small businesses, as well as families of all types, sizes, and income levels,” he concluded.

Patricia Cafferky, a Senior Planner with the BPDA, kicked off the overview of the final draft with chapter two — Neighborhood Needs Analysis — which is the longest of the document at over 90 pages.

As part of this chapter, many topics are touched on, such as demographics, housing, retail and food security, open space and sports fields, climate resilience, preservation, arts and culture, mobility, and neighborhood services.

Further, the neighborhood services element branches out to cover topics including emergency medical services (EMS), police, fire, emergency management, community centers, public libraries, public schools, and water and sewer.

In what is clearly a significant chapter, Cafferky indicated that the inclusion of the neighborhood needs aspect of PLAN: Charlestown was because of resident advocacy.

“The neighborhood needs analysis was added to the plan because of advocacy from Charlestown residents like you joining here tonight and asking questions like what does our police station need, and you know how do we support businesses on Main Street,” said Cafferky.

As part of the neighborhood needs analysis process, the BPDA took several steps to help mold its recommendations for all the aforementioned topics by collecting data, projecting population growth, and speaking with residents, city departments, other stakeholders, and more. 

Although every recommendation for each topic was not touched on, some highlighted during the meeting were to build new affordable homeownership units for households below median-income levels, including a new grocery store in the neighborhood, adding two new soccer/lacrosse multi-use fields by 2050, and so much more.

All of these recommendations can be found in detail in the draft PLAN: Charlestown document and in recorded presentations on the PLAN: Charlestown webpage from May 24, June 14, and July 12.

“The backup for why these are recommendations is all in the plan, and we definitely encourage everyone here tonight to check it out,” said Cafferky.

The next part of the plan previewed was chapter three — Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue planning framework. This aspect of the plan looks to inform zoning in the neighborhood and elements such as land use, density, open space, and mobility.

It should be noted that the recommendations discussed in chapter three are for a PLAN: Charlestown zoning study area. This zoning study area is focused west of Rutherford Avenue, south of Cambridge Street, east of Medford Street, and surrounding Sullivan Square.

There have been several scenarios created for this area of Charlestown. Most recently, a hybrid scenario was presented by the BPDA in March, comprising the best parts from two options that were introduced last summer.

Since the hybrid scenario release, the BPDA collected 392 survey responses and took the feedback to create an updated scenario for the area, which is available in chapter three of the draft document.

While Cafferky indicated the land use portion of the new scenario is very similar to the one released in March, she mentioned some changes, which included slightly more residential use in Sullivan Square and slightly more commercial uses near I-93.

Moving to density, there were more changes, including reducing the maximum height of buildings in the neighborhood from 350 feet to 280 feet. Additionally, the maximum height north of Cambridge Street in the Lost Village was reduced from 90 feet to 70 feet. 

Further, Cafferky mentioned that the BPDA simplified allowed maximum heights into five thresholds — 70 feet, 90 feet, 150 feet, 180 feet, and 280 feet — corresponding to different parts of the study area.

“These are the maximums allowed, but the entire parcel wouldn’t be built up to these heights due to other controls that we have in place,” said Cafferky.

The new scenario also saw floor area ratio (FAR) updates, including the addition of density bonus areas which are for parcels within 1,000 feet of the Sullivan Square and Community College MBTA stations.

As part of the bonus, residential projects completed on parcels within that 1,000-foot area are entitled to a “plus one FAR bonus,” per Cafferky. Moreover, the commercial zone along I-93 saw its FAR decrease from five to four, and the southern part of the study area decreased from four to three.

Only a few changes were noted in the open space portion of the scenario, which would add about 25 new acres of open space within the study area.

One change was reconfiguring the path of the proposed Charlestown Green Loop to come in to the Mystic River and go along the waterfront. The loop would connect the entire neighborhood through things like trails and greenways. Another change mentioned was the addition of smaller green spaces along Rutherford Avenue.

Finally, Lydia Hausle, a Senior Transportation Planner with the BPDA, outlined plans for mobility in the area. Some aspects of the mobility portion of this chapter to note are the inclusion of Charlestown link shuttles, a proposed bike network, a network of new streets and much more.

The following chapters covered were four and five, encompassing urban design guidelines. According to Meghan Richard, an Urban Designer with the BPDA, these guidelines “help ensure that new development and additions — thinking about the existing fabric — use contextually appropriate massing and design.”

There are two sets of guidelines for this topic — one for the Original Peninsula and Lost Village areas which look at existing residential areas and items such as additions, infill projects, facade alterations, and the public realm.

As well as one for the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue areas which look at larger projects and look at building design, adaptive reuse of existing buildings, open space, connectivity, and sustainability.

Examples of these guidelines can be found in the draft document and recorded presentations on the PLAN: Charlestown webpage from May 24 and June 1 meetings. 

Chapter Six focuses specifically on the Navy Yard, which has had copious amounts of planning from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2022.

Not only does the chapter review these old plans, but it also analyzes ongoing work and future work in the Navy Yard. Essentially, the BPDA uses parts of these old plans that have not been completed to create its recommendations.

The Navy Yard recommendations focus on improved connectivity, adaptive reuse and preservation, waterfront activation, economic development, and resilience.

Lastly, the final chapter, number seven, was previewed, focusing on implementation. As part of this chapter, a table outlining the theme, objective, timeline, and implementing department of each recommendation in the plan is provided.

Another part of the table is currently being worked on and will be added, called strategy, which would focus on what levers are being pulled to implement a recommendation, whether it be through things like grants, development mitigation funding, zoning, or more.

A big part of the steps in determining how to implement these recommendations will be when the BPDA meets with the Planning Advisory Council this month. “This is how we actually begin to implement it. So this is a really crucial next step,” said Cafferky.

Additionally, chapter seven pulls together the minor zoning recommendations made in the plan and identifies how they would be achieved through updates to the zoning code.

Moreover, Astrid Walker-Stewart, a Planner with the BPDA, said, “We are currently in the process of working on the zoning for the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Ave areas. The proposed zoning we are working on will codify the land uses and density proposed in the planning framework that Trish (Cafferky) outlined earlier.”

The proposed zoning language is slated to be released in the middle of this month with a three-week public comment period and a virtual zoning office hour on August 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. to follow.

As for other next steps, a public comment period concerning the draft release is open until September 1; you can fill out a survey about the plan at https://bit.ly/DraftPLANCtownSurvey.

To view the draft plan document in its entirety, you can visit https://bit.ly/DraftPLANCharlestown, and to view a recording of the August 3 meeting or any other previous meetings from this process, you can visit the PLAN: Charlestown webpage at https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/plan-charlestown.

“We look forward to collecting and reviewing everyone’s comments and feedback,” said Ruggiero.

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