Bunker Hill Redevelopment Will Use Urban Renewal Zoning Tool

The Bunker Hill Redevelopment team and Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) officials told the community at a meeting on Oct. 28 that the massive mixed-income public housing redevelopment would use a rare, but interesting zoning tool from the Urban Renewal plan.

Like most of Charlestown, the Bunker Hill Development property falls into the 1960s era Urban Renewal Plan, and that will allow the developer to access – with approval of the BPDA – the unique U Subdistrict Master Plan zoning tool. That tool would supersede any common zoning restrictions in place, and would allow the developer and the community to basically re-write the zoning for the site and review it with each phase of the project.

“It will allow each of the future phases to come back for design review so we’re checking in as we go,” said David Linhard, a zoning attorney on the project from Goulston & Storrs.

Chris Breen, the BPDA Urban Renewal manager and a Charlestown resident, said they don’t use the U Subdistrict very often, but it can be effective for a large project where community participation is high.

“It can only be used in Urban Renewal Plan areas and it’s a sophisticated zoning tool in an Urban Renewal Plan where a project can be given specific local use controls,” he said.

The BPDA, with the community, he said, would come up with those local use controls for the project boundaries. Those use controls would essentially be a re-write of the zoning for the 13-block boundary of the site – not to include the Kennedy Center property or the NEW Charlestown Health Center. The U-Subdistrict would set new and different land use controls for FAR (density), building height, usable open space, parking and other dimensional controls as well. It will be an important part of the process to shape the phases of the project, Breen said, and it is flexible in allowing the developer and the community to re-convene in future phases to change or modify the controls in any way.

And rather than those changes affecting large swaths of the community, it would only affect the project. In some ways, it was described as being similar to an Institutional Master Plan (IMP) that is often used for hospital and university planning and zoning, though there are key differences.

To get that zoning tool, there would have to be a minor modification and a map amendment to the Urban Renewal Plan at the BPDA Board and the Zoning Commission. It would also require state Department of Housing and Community Development notification, and City Council notification.

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