By Michael Coughlin Jr.
After years of planning and discussions with residents, the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) neighborhood planning initiative PLAN: Charlestown was adopted by the agency’s Board of Directors last week.
A press release from the BPDA announcing the plan’s adoption says, “The implementation of this plan will deliver new zoning, along with the resources, amenities, and modifications that residents have been advocating for, such as diverse housing options, open space, historic preservation tools, and transportation infrastructure.”
The plan, which looks at the needs of the neighborhood from today to 30 years in the future, was described by Aimee Chambers, the BPDA’s Director of Planning, as a “Long-range and high-level framework plan which responds to current development pressure with clear guidelines for predictable outcomes.”
Some specifics of the plan to note include land use and density changes in the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue planning framework area, which would accommodate around 18,000,000 square feet of new development over 30 years, about 8,000 units, and create approximately 20,000 jobs.
Moreover, the plan identifies opportunities for an additional 34 acres of open space between public and private development, transportation improvements such as bike and pedestrian connections, recommendations to improve neighborhood services, and more.
Since 2019, the BPDA has conducted abundant community engagement, including neighborhood walks, meetings with neighborhood associations, public meetings, and much more to help formulate the plan with the neighborhood.
“We didn’t just share information via advertisements and email blasts or simply raise awareness about upcoming meetings; we immersed ourselves into the community,” said Jason Ruggiero, a Community Engagement Manager with the BPDA.
“We nurtured deep relationships, actively involving stakeholders in decision-making and eagerly sought their input and collaboration,” he added.
Although the BPDA has been working with the community throughout this process and, over the last couple of months, made updates to the plan, some in the neighborhood voiced opposition to it before the Board’s vote last week.
Neighborhood groups like the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) and Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) penned letters to Mayor Michelle Wu in opposition to the plan last month.
Specifically, the CNC’s letter voiced their frustration with the community engagement, while the CPS had issues with the merits and recommendations in the plan.
While there was no opportunity for comments from the public during the PLAN: Charlestown portion of the board meeting, multiple elected officials stood with their constituents and did not support the plan.
One elected official who did not support the plan was City Councilor Gabriela Coletta. Although Coletta found aspects of the plan commendable, such as transitioning industrial uses to affordable housing, the expansion of open space, and more, she still shared areas of concern with the plan she heard from residents.
Some of these concerns she spoke about included height and density, the transportation capacity analysis, and more.
“Although there are many commendable aspects of what is proposed, it is abundantly clear I can’t support this plan as presented if the anticipated burdens overall outweigh the benefits,” said Coletta.
State Representative Daniel Ryan was also in attendance and opposed the adoption of the plan, suggesting that there needed to be more time.
“I have sent letters. I sent a letter yesterday opposed to this plan, but I’m opposed not to the plan itself, not to the work done, I’m opposed to the timing and the trust,” said Ryan.
At-Large City Councilor Erin Murphy also expressed that she could not support the plan through a statement from a member of her office.
“Councilor Murphy can’t support the plan as it is right now. She doesn’t feel the neighborhood’s concerns have been sufficiently addressed in the most recent initiative,” said Thomas Mannion, a Member of Murphy’s office.
Yet, despite the opposition from residents and the testimony from elected officials who were not in support, the BPDA Board unanimously adopted PLAN: Charlestown.
The Board also approved updated zoning text amendments, which would be used to implement the plan’s land use and built form recommendations. These amendments are set to go before the Boston Zoning Commission on October 11.
In a statement via a news update on the BPDA’s website, the agency’s Chief of Planning, Arthur Jemison, thanked Charlestown residents for their engagement.
“I want to thank Charlestown residents for their good faith engagement throughout this process over the last four years. Residents shaped this plan and made PLAN: Charlestown a strong path forward for current, and future residents,” said Jemison.