BPDA Makes Revisions to PLAN: Charlestown

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

A little over a month after the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) released the final draft of PLAN: Charlestown, it held a public meeting on Monday to go over revisions made to the plan.

The updated draft of the comprehensive neighborhood planning initiative can be found on the BPDA’s PLAN: Charlestown webpage, and the initial final draft released in July was covered in depth in the Patriot-Bridge last month at https://charlestownbridge.com/2023/08/10/bpda-releases-final-draft-of-plan-charlestown/.

Aimee Chambers, the Director of Planning at the BPDA, kicked off the revisions with some general updates and updates to the overview chapter of the plan.

In speaking about public feedback, Chambers said, “We did receive a significant amount of feedback both in support of and with concerns with regard to the plan and have tried to identify both of those throughout the course of this presentation.”

Concerning updates to the overview chapter, a letter from the Chief of Planning and Director of the BPDA, Arthur Jemison, was added along with an executive summary on pages six through 10.

Further, regarding general updates to the document, the terminology was strengthened for recommendations to clarify whether there is a need for study or action. The document now also identifies more ongoing and short-term facets that coincide with the plan’s goals.

There were significant revisions for the neighborhood needs analysis chapter, first involving preservation. “With regard to preservation, this is an area that we’ve had a number of requests for revision,” said Chambers.

Some of these revisions include recognizing the previous historic inventory work completed on page 63 and recognizing pending historic districts, National Register expansion, and historic places identified recently on page 66.

Moreover, three updates were included on page 221; the first highlights the potential use of the Charlestown Community Impact Fund (CCIF) for an updated historic resources inventory.

The second is encouraging that potential projects in the Original Peninsula and Lost Village consider historical character when looking for zoning variances. Third, the revisions indicate the support of the ongoing process by the Boston Landmarks Commission to give the Monument Square district historical designation. Both of these revisions are also new recommendations.

While several revisions were made concerning preservation, there were also a few updates to the transportation section of the neighborhood needs chapter, which Jim Fitzgerald, the Deputy Director of Transportation and Infrastructure at the BPDA, outlined.

Fitzgerald explained that in public comments, there were questions about the transportation analysis used to inform the plan; he also specifically mentioned the Lower Mystic Regional Planning study conducted in 2019.

In response to this, Fitzgerald identified that an “in-depth” appendix had been added on page 230 that details the analysis that had been done. Other updates identified included language on expanding shared mobility options like electric vehicle charging and bike share stations on page 218.

There was also an item on page 218 about expanded secure bike parking at MBTA stations and in the historic core, among other transportation updates.

The following topics discussed were growth area and zoning, outlined by Astrid Walker-Stewart, a Planner with the BPDA’s I-Zoning Reform Team.

As part of the presentation, Walker-Stewart explained, “The recommendations in PLAN: Charlestown inform the zoning amendments we have proposed and, in turn, these zoning amendments implement the goals of the plan.”

These proposed zoning amendments can be viewed in depth on the BPDA’s PLAN: Charlestown webpage.

In response to concerns that the use of Planned Development Areas (PDAs) would undermine the premise of the plan itself, Walker-Stewart said, “The public benefits of the projects created through the PDA have to directly support PLAN: Charlestown and are guided by the plan.”

“The recommendations in the plan are very valuable for the parcels that are eligible to go through the PDA process,” she added.

Regarding updates for these topics, it was revealed that the PLAN Zoning Study Area has been adjusted, and the Bunker Hill Mall site has been removed.

However, Walker-Stewart said, “The plan still identifies that this parcel of land is an underutilized site” and that the site was removed to allow for more of a public process to determine things like its future use, scale, and density.

Finally, changes were made to the mixed-use subdistrict to allow research and development as a conditional use.

There were also updates to the urban design guidelines chapter on page 175 that adjusted the appropriate roof forms. Further, the BPDA highlighted two revisions regarding lighting.

One on page 159 encourages considering lighting with sustainable and resilience strategies, and the other on page 184 suggests thoughtful design implementation. Also, the BPDA made an update on page 183 encouraging the use of original sidewalk materials.

Finally, revisions were made in the plan’s implementation chapter, highlighting entities such as the Planning Advisory Council and the CCIF. There has also been an addition in the chapter’s recommendation table, which signifies private partners.

The BPDA also added a “Development Pipeline” component in several sections of the neighborhood needs chapter that outlines what is currently in development or coming in the near future.

Following the outline of the updated draft, there was a discussion for those in attendance to give their thoughts. While several folks supported the plan, some either flat-out opposed it or had concerns surrounding infrastructure.

Jemison, who made some closing remarks following a discussion period that lasted over an hour, thanked everyone for coming and acknowledged the feedback from those in attendance.

“We absorbed a lot of comments tonight. A lot that I heard had to do with concerns about infrastructure and the feeling that the plan, although it’s presenting 30 years of development and infrastructure development, that it was being absorbed almost as if it was going to happen immediately,” said Jemison.

“What we’re going to do next is log the comments we heard tonight and try to provide some formal response,” he added.

The BPDA will continue to take in feedback until September 21, and the presentation notes that “minor modifications” could still occur.

Following the end of the comment period, the next steps, as highlighted Monday, are to submit the plan to the BPDA Board on September 28 and submit the zoning to the board for recommendation to the zoning commission. Further, there are plans for a hearing with the zoning commission in October.

To view the updated draft, leave feedback, and even view Monday’s meeting and its slideshow, you can visit the PLAN: Charlestown webpage at https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/plan-charlestown.

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