Boston City Councilor At-Large Michael Flaherty calls for the implementation of an Interim Planning Overlay District (IPOD) to further protect South Boston under the new zoning changes of Article 68

April 28, 2017 
Director Brian Golden 
Boston Planning and Development Agency
1 City Hall Square, 9th Floor 
Boston, MA 02201

Dear Director Golden,

I write you with respect to the new South Boston zoning enacted last November. The expansion of Article 68 to all of South Boston was intended as a way to codify new development rules that would be fair to neighborhood residents, property owners, and developers alike. The goal, which BPDA staff worked so hard towards achieving, was to advance the City's housing creation goals within a zoning code framework respectful of the day-to-day living conditions of South Boston residents, who have been significantly impacted by an unprecedented period of neighborhood development and residential expansion.

The new zoning was intended to level the development playing field by regularizing the rules to allow for reasonable growth, while at the same time eliminating the need to resort to variances and the unpredictability of the zoning appeal process. To a great extent, the new rules did solve many of the problems associated with the antediluvian zoning scheme they replaced. Under your guidance and leadership, reasonable growth limits were put in place and arcane loopholes were closed. Required off-street parking associated with new residential development, possibly the single most important issue to me and my South Boston neighbors, was moderately increased.

While the new zoning is certainly an improvement of what had been in place, it is not perfect. Article 68 eliminated minimum lot size requirements and replaced previously existing low-density use restrictions (3F and R districts) with a single all-encompassing multifamily (MFR) district. The result is that large lots, where development had been limited by use or minimum lot size requirements, may now become the sites for development projects wholly inappropriate to the character of the immediately surrounding neighborhood.

No zoning is perfect, and it is typically only through trial and error that any regulatory scheme, including zoning, can be improved. Flaws can be identified and corrected, while strengths can be enhanced and expanded. Given the level and intensity of frustration of my neighbors in South Boston, as voiced to me on an almost daily basis, I think we must take this opportunity to learn from the identified shortcomings in the expansion of Article 68, as well-intentioned and hard-worked as that effort was.

Accordingly, I am requesting that the BPDA initiate the implementation of a new South Boston Interim Planning Overlay District, to remain in place for no more than one year, in order to subject certain higher unit count proposed projects to increased public review, while your staff assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Article 68 as implemented. In this way, technical corrections to South Boston's zoning regulations can be carefully considered and drafted for future enactment, while IPOD protections will in the meantime ensure necessary scrutiny of projects that, while perhaps zoning compliant under the current scheme, may not be appropriate to immediately-surrounding neighborhoods.

Please know that the hard work of BPDA staff in this effort, your leadership at the helm of the agency, and your and the Mayor's commitment to improving Boston's neighborhoods while growing our city's housing sector, are acknowledged and greatly appreciated. Under the direction of your staff, and with the continued participation of members of the South Boston community, I am confident we will achieve a better South Boston zoning blueprint that will allow for reasonable and responsible growth, while preserving what makes South Boston such a special and unique place to live.

Very truly yours,

Michael F. Flaherty

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