BPDA Board adopts PLAN: Charlestown planning initiative
Sep 28, 2023
The BPDA Board of Directors adopted the PLAN: Charlestown planning initiative at a board meeting Thursday, after four years of work and engagement with the public. The plan includes: an analysis of neighborhood needs and recommendations to improve access to services, new zoning for existing industrial parts of the neighborhood to encourage more housing and retail options, and urban design guidelines to govern future development in the former industrial area and in the Original Peninsula. 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.
“While new investment and growth is important for a neighborhood to continue to thrive, it is important to have a plan that charts a path forward in an inclusive, thoughtful way, and which meets the needs of the residents who live there today,” said Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison. “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.”
“As with the other neighborhood plans that are approaching completion and the new Squares + Streets citywide rezoning initiative, PLAN: Charlestown solidifies our commitment to shaping Boston’s growth to meet urgent citywide needs for more housing and more affordability, open space and climate resiliency, and economic opportunity,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “Through extensive feedback from community members, this plan has refined a clear framework for future community building in Boston’s oldest neighborhood, including stronger protections for the historic heart of residential Charlestown and the Bunker Hill Mall. Our teams will continue to engage residents and all stakeholders as we look to create consistent and predictable parameters for Boston’s future growth.”
What began as a “Corridor Enhancement Study” in 2019, originally intended to look exclusively at Charlestown’s industrial areas along the Rutherford Ave corridor and Sullivan Square, evolved over time. Through meaningful participation of Charlestown residents, the planning initiative transformed into a comprehensive neighborhood-wide plan that considers both zoning recommendations and wider community needs. Implementation of some of these recommendations will occur in the short-term, while others will be implemented over the course of the next 30 years.
Engagements over the last four years varied in size and style throughout various phases of the planning process, and included an advisory group of neighborhood residents, public meetings and workshops, and informal engagements like walking tours and office hours. With additional recommendations across housing, transportation, preservation, neighborhood services, and more, PLAN: Charlestown outlines recommendations for quality of life improvements for both existing and future residents. As much as residents shape the character of the neighborhood, the housing, amenities, and services offered in Charlestown will also affect who wants to or who is able to live there. PLAN: Charlestown outlines a path forward to advance this vision.
Within the plan are distinct improvements or recommendations specific to the needs of Charlestown. This includes things like creating dozens of new acres of publicly accessible open space, including two full-size soccer fields available for multi-use purposes; up to three new free neighborhood transit shuttle bus routes; commitments towards arts & culture improvements; and much more. In addition, several recommendations focus on the Original Peninsula and are aimed at improving the quality of life for residents, such as: enhancing historic preservation tools, promoting affordable neighborhood retail along Charlestown’s main corridors, public school improvements, and enhancing public and social services. These are all ideas that came directly from Charlestown community members. BPDA staff have convened City Departments, including Parks, Fire, Facilities, EMS, Arts & Culture, Boston Public Schools, and others, in public forums to ensure that this collective vision will be implemented with the help of all partners.
PLAN: Charlestown seeks to address Boston's housing shortage in part by amending the zoning code to allow for more diverse housing throughout the neighborhood, and prioritizing family-sized housing. Zoning amendments will also incentivize, and create a clearer path for people to build more income-restricted housing. Changes will also make it possible to prioritize higher density mixed-use development around the Sullivan Square and Community College MBTA stations to create more transit-oriented development.
"Smart Growth zoning reforms and planning initiatives like this are critical to solving Boston's housing shortage," said Executive Director of Housing Forward MA Josh Zakim. “The single best thing cities and towns can do to lower the cost of housing is to change zoning so that it is easier for new homes to be built in all of our neighborhoods. Further incentivizing the creation of income restricted, affordable housing through zoning bonuses will directly lead to the creation of more homes for lower income Bostonians."
Land use recommendations also include updating zoning to allow more retail businesses throughout the study area, and in new developments, something residents advocated for over the last few years. This is intended to fill the need for essential retail like laundromats and grocery stores, of which there are few and far between in Charlestown, as well as bring in new specialty retail missing from the neighborhood, such as bookstores or music shops. These recommendations also incorporate affordable commercial rent in new developments to allow small, local businesses to flourish throughout the neighborhood. This will also aid in the creation of a more diverse and resilient economy.
The planning initiative also recommends a significant amount of high quality, equitably distributed new open space and public realm improvements. The focus will be on adding this open space in currently underserved areas that are more vulnerable to extreme heat and have less tree canopy, ensuring the new open space combats the urban heat island effect, and creates a healthy, resilient environment. In total, the plan calls for more than 20 additional acres of new open space. There are currently developments planned in Charlestown that will add to the open space network, and the plan accounts for those and uses them as a baseline to add upon. The plan also recommends two new sports fields for the community to use.
As Charlestown’s population grows over the next several years, the plan seeks to ensure that the appropriate transportation infrastructure is there to support that growth, and travel throughout the neighborhood safe and reliable. As such, the plan recommends a new high-frequency bus line on Rutherford Ave, as well as three new publicly accessible shuttles, which will be funded by private development projects. This shuttle service will better connect residents to key destinations around the neighborhood. The plan also recommends further study of a commuter rail station at Sullivan Square. As part of the implementation of this plan, the BPDA will continue to work with State partners and advocate during future development review processes to ensure the City is able to deliver the necessary services for the growth of the neighborhood.
Under the direction of Mayor Wu, the BPDA continues to complete neighborhood planning initiatives that began over the last several years. In South Boston, the South Boston Transportation Action Plan (SBTAP) is an ongoing transportation planning process that will deliver recommendations to improve transportation access, efficiency, and safety in the neighborhood. There are also neighborhood planning studies being completed Downtown and in East Boston which will culminate this Fall. Citywide, the Agency is currently advancing the Squares + Streets initiative, which will create small area plans and new zoning to enable growth in many of the neighborhood centers in Boston.