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'Smart growth' balance urged

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'Smart growth' balance urged

Some call for limits on new housing to save neighborhood jobs

By Chris Reidy, Globe Staff, 2/29/2004

Given all the condo projects sprouting up nearby, the area around the Broadway MBTA stop in South Boston might qualify as Exhibit A of what the Romney administration likes to call "smart growth," or "transit-oriented development."

While the activity in South Boston has occurred with little help from the state, Douglas Foy, secretary of the Office for Commonwealth Development, said, "That's the kind of pattern you want to see happen."

One way to address the housing shortage, he said, is to urge developers to cluster multi-unit housing around T and commuter rail stops in an effort to create walkable neighborhoods where cars are optional.

On that score, the area near the intersection of West Broadway and Dorchester Avenue seems to have it all. Indeed, it may have too much. It has a Red Line stop and many new condos -- and it has many long-standing industrial properties and businesses.

In a speech last week, Mayor Thomas M. Menino focused briefly on the stretch between South Boston's two T stops, Broadway and Andrew, and while he has been a longtime advocate of smart growth, he said new zoning restrictions may be needed in that area to protect some of the industrial properties and businesses, along with the jobs they provide now or could provide in the future. One goal would be to slow the pace of industrial properties being converted into high-end condos, because so many conversions have already taken place.

According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, projects across South Boston, including its Seaport District, have about 550 housing units, many of them condos, coming on the market or under construction.

Projects envisioning roughly another 2,500 housing units are in various stages of the approval process. More conversions to high-end residences could chase away much needed neighborhood jobs, said Menino, who has asked the BRA to study the issue.

"You can't flip everything into housing," Menino said. "What I'm looking for is a balance between jobs and housing."

Some "want to take advantage of a hot housing market in South Boston," he said, and turn long-standing industrial properties into high-end condos.

"If it was all affordable [housing], I might go for it," said Menino, who estimated that 85 percent of South Boston's new condos are "out of reach" for blue-collar residents.

At the Conservation Law Foundation, an advocacy group, senior attorney Bennet Heart said a subway or commuter rail stop is a "good magnet for development," but smart-growth initiatives should include some modestly priced housing.

"It's important that some units be affordable so that a neighborhood is not completely gentrified," he said.

When it comes to saving jobs, Menino won't get an argument from Governor Mitt Romney. Two of his smart-growth guidelines are "increase job opportunities" and "foster sustainable businesses."

Foy hopes that some of what has happened in South Boston can be replicated in about 30 other locations around the state, including at the Waverly commuter rail stop in Belmont, the Lechmere T stop in Cambridge, and the Wonderland T stop in Revere. Smart growth, he said, gives developers an opportunity to "revitalize areas that have been bypassed or underutilized."

"I'd love to see smart growth in Mattapan Square," Menino said.

From The Boston Globe

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And perhaps some smart-growth in MetroWest:

Lincoln Mall plan moves forward

Owner hopes to create a village

By Eun Lee Koh, Globe Staff, 2/29/2004

The Lincoln Mall, Lincoln's only major retail center, could get its first face lift in 32 years as its owner moves forward with seeking the necessary approvals to expand the building into what it hopes will be a vibrant village center in which to live, eat, shop, and meet friends for coffee.

An outline of the proposal, still in early planning stages, was filed with the Zoning Board of Appeals this month. It details a twofold plan to increase the number of available parking spaces, renovate and expand existing shops, then build up to 20 mixed-income housing units above the building.

The Rural Land Foundation, the nonprofit land conservation group that owns the mall, announced last month that it hoped to build the housing units there in an effort to add to the town's affordable housing stock. The plans for commercial renovations preceded the housing proposal by several years, but members of the foundation's board of trustees say the desire for affordable housing provided an ideal opportunity to move forward with both initiatives.

"We hope it will form a focus point for the community and create a space that people can really enjoy," said Amalie Kass, vice chairwoman of the Rural Land Foundation. "People have been saying they wanted something like this -- some place where they can gather and eat with friends and in the meantime pick up some groceries, too."

The foundation is scheduled to appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals next month. Although the hearing would only address parking, approval of that component would open the door for a renovation and expansion at the mall and provide parking spaces to future residents of the housing there.

This is just one step toward accomplishing Rural Land Foundation's renovation and housing goals, according to Geoff McGean, the executive director. The group still needs to determine exactly how much the project will cost and how to pay for it, as well as come up with design and construction plans and get approvals from various town boards, according to McGean.

A move by the Planning Board to change the zoning in South Lincoln to accommodate both residential and commercial development is expected to make it easier for the Rural Land Foundation to move forward with its housing ambitions. Town officials had earmarked the Lincoln Mall area for possible growth because of its proximity to a commuter rail station and existing businesses. The plan to renovate and expand the mall has been in the works for at least the past six years, according to town officials.

According to the outline submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals, the project would expand the mall from its current 33,600 square feet to 41,850 square feet. The proposal includes expansion plans for Donelan's, a grocery store, the post office, the Whistlestop Cafe, and additional office space. The plans also include adding 1,000 square foot for a new Rural Land Foundation office and creating 1,000 square feet of community space.

The renovation project would also improve pedestrian and traffic safety near the post office, located at the mall. The post office currently has no separate loading dock for mail and deliveries, which has created potentially hazardous situations for postal workers and pedestrians, according to the Kenneth Bassett, chairman of the Rural Land Foundation board.

"The idea isn't to create a downtown the way that other towns have a downtown," he said. "It's really about creating a community space where people can go and sit down, get cup of coffee, doughnuts, a sandwich."

Town officials commended the Rural Land Foundation's plan, saying it matched the larger aims of the Lincoln community. The plan would spruce up a site that is already commercial without encroaching on conservation land or negatively affecting the environment, according to conservation officials.

Selectwoman Sara Mattes said the proposal not only meets a local need, but also adheres to the principles of "smart growth," an initiative backed by Governor Mitt Romney that encourages housing retail development near existing transportation centers.

From The Boston Globe

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I'm not sure of the logic of limiting housing for jobs. Boston needs all the housing it can get to bring housing costs to a reasonable level.

Couldn't the industrial stuff be moved to somewhere less urban, like in West Roxbury?

If there is no demand for industrial uses, why not push for housing?

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Well if all the jobs were in West Roxbury, or somewhere else far from the CBD it would make Southie and downtown into a suburb of the suburbs. Also, the city makes far more in taxes off of business property than it does off residential property. There is plenty of space for infill residential development within the city. We shouldn't be turning our industrial areas into housing so quickly, when there is a need for jobs in the city and the taxes those potential businesses could bring.

The Southwest Corridor should be being developed as a residential area, with midrise and highrise housing over the rail lines.

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