PLAN Charlestown Starts off with a Discussion on Boundaries and Possibilities

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) resumed PLAN Charlestown last week and this week with meetings and workshops bent on having the community determine what is historic and needs to be protected – and what does not.

In short, the BPDA is looking to the community to draw boundaries for its planning study that got underway earlier this year just prior to COVID-19 hitting. In August, the process resumed and on Oct. 8, the Agency held its first online workshop with the community to start providing definitions and talk about tools that could be part of any final recommendations – tools that might include a type of Landmarks district.

“The goal of any planning study is to protect the neighborhood, but that is also about deciding what’s historic,” said BPDA Planner Ted Schwartzberg. “I think with all due respect, the Casella Recycling Plant where our recycling goes – that’s probably not historic. It’s important for the City to have a place for our trash to go…I would say that’s not about protecting something we like in the neighborhood. The thing about this is people like Charlestown because it has very cool historic parts and we want you to identify them…When we went out to the community, people said they wanted to talk about what are the historic parts of Charlestown. They said they wanted to identify the historic core and protect it. This is the first workshop and that’s what we’re doing. It comes down to us asking for your help in identifying the core and then we can move onto how to protect that.”

To that end, the BPDA PLAN Charlestown effort has put up an online survey that asks participants to talk about what they like in Charlestown, and what they find historic. Part of that survey asks respondents to draw a line around what they think is the historic core. That information, Schwartzberg said, will be analyzed and used to draw the boundaries of the planning study’s recommendations.

Meghan Richards, a historic planner for the BPDA, talked about the existing Neighborhood Design Overlay District (NDOD), which covers the central part of the Town. However, she said in land-use conversations, that NDOD could be expanded, or it could be strengthened by instituting some kind of Landmarks District – one created by residents.

“The NDOD is one tool that exists and it’s the one we have in place right now,” she said. “It doesn’t mean it’s the only tool we should have or that it shouldn’t be tweaked. It could mean that parts of the NDOD would be a Landmarks District. There are a couple of areas in the community that are on the National Register of Historic Places.”

She said bringing in the Boston Landmarks Commission and the Massachusetts Historical Commission would likely be an important conversation at upcoming meetings – something many have been discussing for good or back over years and years.

In the end, Schwartzberg said the first workshops on historic land use will be about starting the process with clear boundaries. Ultimately, though, the process will be about instituting the right tools to protect the neighborhood and promote development where appropriate.

“It’s going to form ultimately regulations that are going to affect the built environment,” he said. “We don’t know what those tools are yet…but typically planning processes will lead to updates of the zoning code and include updates to the NDOD boundaries and what the historic considerations are to that. The plan might lead to plans with the Landmarks Commission and to conversations with the Mass Historical Commission.”

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