LETTER: Resident Offers Recommendations to Council on RMUD Zoning

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Dear Town Councilors et al.,

Please consider the following recommendations regarding the proposed rezoning of the eastern end of the Arsenal Street corridor. Some of the following will be familiar to some of you, some of it is new.

The Process:

  • Timing: It is more important to thoroughly consider the details of rezoning than to enact a rezoning by any particular date. If there are concerns about potential of-right development under the current zoning, a brief moratorium on large development in the proposed RMU area, until the rezoning is adopted, would be appropriate.
  • Evaluate as a package: The rezoning should be evaluated as a package. Allowable height is affected by required setbacks which is related to open space, which is related to FAR, which is related to traffic & transit, etc. E.g., I advocated a compromise 130’ height special permit maximum only because I also advocated certain setbacks & stepbacks, particularly at parkland.
  • Town policies first: The rezoning should be evaluated based on the Town’s priorities and policies, not based on the wish list of Boylston Properties or any other individual property owner.
  • Committee process: The votes of Economic Development & Planning Committee on 12/15/15 about pieces of the RMUD should not bind the committee when it reconvenes and makes an overall recommendation to the Council.

The package of proposals I respectfully recommend to you include the following:

  • Master Plan special permit (MPSP) and special permits (SP) Criteria: Granting MPSPs and SPs should require a planning board finding that the proposal furthers the policy goals, intents and purposes of the RMUD ordinance. The approval criteria in Sections 9.03(c) and 9.05 of current zoning are inadequate.
  • The policy goals, intents and purposes of the RMUD should include specific goals from the Comprehensive Plan for the Arsenal Corridor and for commercial areas generally. The list of these policy goals, intents & purposes is too long to include here, but will be addressed elsewhere.
  • Uses: To achieve true mixed use, MPSPs should limit the maximum percentage of a development in any one of the broad use categories of office, retail and residential. (E.g., no single use category can be more than 40% of the project, by various square footage measures, but the Planning Bd. may give a waiver of that maximum.) Such a limit was advocated by the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Height: If the RMUD requires a sufficient setback/stepback, allow heights up to 130’ (about 10 storeys) with an FAR max of 2.0 under a MPSP. The general standard without SP should be the lesser of 55’/5 storeys. Without the setbacks/stepbacks recommended below, a lower maximum height would be more appropriate.
  • Setback/stepback: Generally, create a height-to-setback & stepback ratio for facades facing Town-owned public ways, with greater setback/stepbacks required for facades facing public parklands, residential districts & pre-existing residential uses. E.g., for facades facing Town-owned public ways, floors above 55’/5 storeys should be stepped back 15’ more than standard, floors above 79’/7 storeys) should be stepped back 30’.
  • Greenough setback buffer: Within 100’ of Greenough, no new building or increase in height of existing building. Do not allow a trade off which reduces this buffer in exchange for open space elsewhere. Do not reward inferior current landscaping or maintenance with such a trade off.
  • Arsenal Park/Historic Structure Protection: Permission to construct a new building or increase height of existing building on lot abutting Arsenal Park should require owner to grant perpetual preservation restriction of roofline of historic structures within 100’ of Arsenal Park. (This would still allow new construction to replace newer, non-historic buildings within 100’ of Arsenal Park.)
  • Length of contiguous building façade: The taller a building is above the standard 55’/5 storeys, the shorter should be the maximum allowed length of a contiguous building façade.
  • Elm St.: Require greater setback and/or lower height and/or shorter contiguous building facades along Elm St. because it is narrow.
  • Open Space: Require an Open Space plan with every MPSP application, including location, size, characteristics (pervious vs. impervious), uses and public accessibility of all open space areas.
  • Compliance with Town TDM Plan/Policy: The Town needs a transportation demand management plan or policy in place before any MPSP or SP in the RMUD is granted. A moratorium on the grant of RMUD MPSPs and SPs may be necessary if it is impractical to meet this goal under current conditions based on likely timetables of the Council, DCDP and Boylston Properties.
  • TMA Participation: MPSP and SP conditions which require participation in a TMA should include a quantifiable level of participation, whether stated as an inflation adjusted dollar amount or a TMA membership level, as well as a statement of whether membership in a TMA shuttle program is required.
  • Transit/Traffic/Parking: Grant of every MPSP and SP should require a finding that RMUD transit improvement and traffic reduction policies/goals are satisfied, and require additional significant mitigations for each of: heights above 55’/5 storeys, FAR of 2.0, and decrease in parking requirements greater than a certain percent (e.g., 15%).
  • LEED Certification: Per Gary Shaw’s 12/4 proposal, require individual projects to be either 1) ‘Certified’ at LEED Silver or 2) ‘Certifiable’ at LEED Gold.
  • Master Plan expiration: When a MPSP is granted, set a time limit for the holder of the MPSP to apply for approval of individual projects. Any individual project that has not been applied for within, e.g., 7 years, should require full special permit review, not just site plan review. This applies regardless of when the MPSP is “deemed exercised” or how much of the Master Plan has been built.

Thank you for considering these recommendations, and best wishes for a productive 2016 Council session,


Jon Bockian

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