CityOfBoston Official An official website of the City of Boston

This is the website for the City of Boston’s new Planning Department, which launched on July 1. The staff and many responsibilities of the Boston Planning & Development Agency have moved to the Planning Department of the City of Boston including planning & zoning, urban design, development review, and real estate divisions. Please excuse any misalignment you may see on our site as we transition to the City. Learn more

Please note that the following terms and descriptions do not constitute legal definitions but rather are intended to serve as helpful background information for the general public.

Boston Planning Department Glossary

Word or Phrase


Accessory Use An additional use that is related to and on the same lot as a lawful principal use.
Additional Dwelling Unit A new typology to Boston that could create naturally affordable rental units without significantly changing the fabric of the existing neighborhoods, by allowing owner occupants to carve out space within the envelope of their home for a smaller, independent rental unit.
Adequacy Determination Issued by the BPDA when a project undergoing Article 80 review has fully addressed and mitigated its impacts as presented in a Final Impact Report.
Allowed Use A land use that is permitted as a matter of right. Zoning Board of Appeal approval is not required.
Appeal A request made to the Zoning Board of Appeal for relief from zoning code regulations (variance) or a conditional use permit.
Article 80 Adopted in 1996 to provide clear guidelines for the development review process relating to large projects (adding/constructing more than 50,000 square feet), small projects (adding/constructing more than 20,000 square feet and/or 15+ net new residential units), planned development areas (new overlay zoning districts for project areas larger than 1 acre), and institutional master plans (projects relating to academic and medical campuses). The Article 80 process may include, but is not limited to, review of a project's impacts on transportation, public realm, the environment, and historic resources. Project Managers assist developers in navigating the Article 80 process. Public input is encouraged throughout a project's review timeline.
As of Right Use Those uses that are allowed by and in compliance with the zoning code. These may still require permits and licenses.
Back Streets A Business Development program that supports Boston's small and medium-sized manufacturing, wholesale, construction, commercial services, logistics, and food processing businesses. Back Streets offers services to protect industrial land use through planning and zoning, identify opportunities for industrial expansion and development, identify transit and infrastructure improvements, and identify public realm improvements.
Bid The process by which proponents submit their proposals in response to RFQs or RFPs.
Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC) An appointed commission that advises the Planning Department on the design of projects of urban design significance. The BCDC meets in regularly-scheduled public meetings to review project designs. Members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend the BCDC’s meetings.
Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) The municipal preservation agency for Boston's historic buildings, places, and neighborhoods. Its functions include identifying and preserving historic properties, reviewing development and demolition activities proposed in the City, providing public information and assistance on historic preservation practices, and providing staff support to the local Historic District Commissions.
Boston Local Development Corporation (BLDC) A private 501(c)(3) non-profit Corporation administered by City of Boston staff. The BLDC provides loans that range from $40,000 to $150,000 for businesses in, or relocating to, the City of Boston. These loans can be used when buying a new business property, purchasing equipment and machinery, constructing an addition to an existing plan, making leasehold improvements, or providing working capital to grow a business. Generally, the BLDC partners with local banks and provides subordinate debt. BLDC also offers loans up to $250,000 for Boston companies in the industrial and manufacturing sectors.
Boston Zoning Commission (BZC) The Zoning Commission is responsible for adopting all new zoning and zoning amendments, for approving PDA Development Plans, and for approving Institutional Master Plans. The Zoning Commission is located within the City of Boston’s Planning Cabinet.
BPDA Board The BPDA Board is the official agency body made up of five members. The board voted on final determinations and agreements, including planning studies, rezoning initiatives, land acquisitions and dispositions, and development project approvals. The Board will only vote on final project approval following an extensive community vetting and stakeholder review process led by staff. Four of the five board members are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. One member is appointed by the Governor. Board members serve five-year staggered terms.

The BPDA Board meets at regularly scheduled public meetings, usually held every three weeks on Thursday afternoons.
Business Improvement District (BID) A special district in which all property owners pay additional fees, usually assessed based on property value, towards the maintenance of that district above and beyond what the city and state contribute. Extra services may include street cleaning, marketing, events, capital improvements, beautification, and security. At least 51% of the property owners with 61% of the assessed value must agree to form a district. Though there are over 1,000 BIDs in the U.S., the Downtown BID is the only such district in the Boston area.
Chapter 121A A designation given to certain development projects within Massachusetts that serve a public purpose or generate economic advancement in areas that are blighted and minimally marketable for private investment. This designation forms a special partnership between the State, the BPDA and the developer that results in a streamlined regulatory process and a negotiated alternative tax payment in lieu of real and personal property taxes. The streamlining of the review process allows the BPDA to work more closely with the developer to ensure a high-quality and successful project and ensures that construction will begin as expediently as possible, and the negotiated tax payment provides the corporation with tax certainty and allows the city to rely on a constant stream of tax revenues.

More information on 121A can be found in our document center.
Chapter 91 – The Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act The Commonwealth's primary tool for protection and promotion of public use of its tidelands and other waterways. The oldest program of its kind in the nation, Chapter 91 regulates activities on both coastal and inland waterways, including construction, dredging, and filling in tidelands, great ponds, and certain rivers and streams.
City of Boston Utility Coordination Software (COBUCS) A centralized database that coordinates all construction work on city-owned streets, cross-references planned work and maintenance, and reduces conflicts among ongoing projects.
Comments At certain points during the Article 80 process, the public and other city agencies are invited to formally submit comments on Article 80 submissions.
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) are granted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to states or municipalities to support community programs related to affordable housing, job creation, and business retention. CDBG funding is primarily targeted for activities that benefit low- and moderate-income persons. More information in CDBG grants is available from HUD's CDBG webpage.
Community Garden Designated gardening area that is composed of small plots that are tended by individuals or large plots that are tended by a team or organization.
Conditional use A land use permitted by the Zoning Code provided that it is found by the Zoning Board of Appeal to comply with certain conditions set out in the Code.
Conservation Protection Subdistrict (CPS) Special zoning district that may be established to promote the most desirable use of land and siting of development in areas with special natural or scenic features in accordance with a well-considered plan. Site plans for projects proposed in a CPS must show that the project will result in the minimum interference with significant natural features, provide for proper management and maintenance of those features, and avoid excessive runoff and erosion.
Convey To transfer property from one to another by means of a written instrument and other formalities. To deed or transfer title to another.
Conveyance Date The date on which a deed or title is transferred to another party.
Cooperation Agreement Legal agreement entered into by the BPDA and a developer after the completion of the Article 80 review process. The Cooperation Agreement details any and all agreed-upon public benefits and mitigation to be provided by the development project.
Demonstration Project The application of a BPDA power and function derived from Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 121B, Section 46(f) to create a plan for a specific parcel to enable development outside of an urban renewal area.
Designate To indicate and set apart for a specific purpose.
Determination BPDA issues Determinations after the filing of a Notice of Project Change, certifying that no further review is required.
Development Impact Project (DIP) Project that requires zoning relief and proposes to include one or more Development Impact Uses (office, retail business, service, public service uses, institutional, educational, hotel, motel, or other uses that result in the reduction in the supply of low and moderate-income dwelling units). Projects that qualify as DIPs must pay into the linkage fund, which is a fund that assists with the creation and preservation of housing and job training.
Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR) A possible requirement during the Article 80 process. If, following the review of a project's PNF, the BPDA finds that further study of certain impact areas is required, the BPDA may request a DPIR. The DPIR includes detail technical analysis of project impacts and may be commented on by the BPDA, city agencies, and the public. 
Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) A state office with the mission of strengthening cities, towns, and neighborhoods to enhance the quality of life of Massachusetts residents. EOHLC administers programs relating to community development, affordable housing, housing stabilization programs, legal resources, and Indian affairs.
Final Project Impact Report (FPIR) A possible requirement during the Article 80 process. If, following the review of a project's PNF and DPIR, the BPDA finds that further study of certain impact areas is required, the BPDA may request an FPIR. The FPIR includes more detailed analysis of project impacts and may be commented on by the BPDA, city agencies, and the public before the BPDA can issue its Adequacy Determination.
Forbidden use A use that is not allowed in a particular zoning district because of harmful impacts on other allowed uses; e.g., noise, pollution.
Geographic Information System (GIS) A technology that uses hardware and software to collect, analyze, display, and store geographically referenced information in maps, tables, 3-D displays, and other formats.
Greenbelt Protection Overlay District (GPOD) Special zoning district that may be designated along Boston's Greenbelt Roadways. A Greenbelt Roadway includes any landscaped roadway or major thoroughfare that is characterized by open space or landscaping along its right-of-way, or that is used primarily by noncommercial or pleasure vehicles. Any projects proposed in a GPOD must show that it will result in the minimum interference with significant natural features, provide for proper management and maintenance of those features, and avoid excessive runoff and erosion.
HUBZone A U.S. Small Business Administration program that helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. A "HUBZone" is a historically underutilized business zone, and several areas of Boston are considered to lie in HUBZones.
Impact Advisory Group (IAG) A nominated group of community members who help the BPDA to determine appropriate strategies to mitigate the social and environmental impacts of projects reviewed under Article 80.
Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) Established in 2000 to promote the production of affordable housing in Boston. Under IDP, developers may include affordable units within their developments (on-site), create affordable housing in an off-site location, or make a cash contribution towards the creation or preservation of affordable housing. This policy was replaced by Inclusionary Zoning in 2024.
Inclusionary Zoning On July 13, 2023, the BPDA Board of Directors approved a text amendment to the zoning code that would incorporate the City’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) within zoning for the first time in the City’s history. The new Inclusionary Zoning amendment updates the prior policy by lowering the unit count threshold for projects that will be required to include income-restricted units from ten to seven units and increasing the portion of housing that is required to be income-restricted from 13 percent to 20 percent.
Incremental Real Estate Property Taxes Real estate property taxes are calculated by multiplying the assessed value of a property by a given tax rate. When a piece of land is built on or an existing building is renovated, its assessed value will increase, and with that increase, its real estate property taxes will increase as well. The incremental real estate property tax is the difference between the value of pre-construction real estate property tax and that of the post-construction tax.
Industrial Park An area designed and zoned for manufacturing and associated activities.
Infrastructure Investment Incentive (I3) Program creating a partnership between a private development, its municipality and the State of Massachusetts that fosters job growth and economic development through investment in new public infrastructure necessary to support that development. Unlike TIF and DIF projects, I3 projects rely on the incremental income tax revenues the development pays to the State (TIF and DIF projects utilize incremental real estate property tax revenue, which goes to the municipality). At the beginning of the project, the State government issues bonds to raise money for the infrastructure development (the process of issuing bonds is similar to taking on a loan). The proceeds from the bond issue are put towards the construction of the infrastructure, which is managed by the private developer. The developer is responsible for any payments due on those bonds (effectively interest payments) until the construction of the project is complete, at which point the municipality takes over the payments. Once the building is occupied and generating income tax revenue, the State assumes responsibility for the debt, and pays it off using the incremental state income taxes generated by the project. This process ensures that all three parties work collectively to ensure a high-quality development with a significant positive impact on the surrounding community.
Inspectional Services Department (ISD) A City of Boston department that administers the Boston Zoning Code and the State Building Code and issues all building, use, and occupancy permits. If a project requires development review under Article 80, ISD will not issue a permit until the BPDA and the Zoning Commission (if necessary) have completed the required review and the BPDA has certified that the project described in the permit application is consistent with the project approved through development review.
Institutional Master Plan (IMP) Planning and zoning document required by Article 80-D of the zoning code for all colleges, universities, and hospitals with over 150,000 SF of tax-exempt real estate. IMPs include information about existing facilities, planned development projects, campus growth projections, and community benefits. IMPs are generally renewed every ten years and must be updated every two years with status reports of all projects included in the IMP.
Institutional Master Plan Amendment (IMP Amendment) A required Article 80-D procedure for institutions that wish to make changes to an existing IMP, such as adding land or new projects. In general, the procedure for amending an IMP is the same as the procedure for approving a new IMP.
Institutional Master Plan Notification Form (IMPNF) The first document filed by a hospital or university to initiate the Institutional Master Plan (IMP) process described in Article 80-D. The IMPNF summarizes the information that an institution will present in its IMP, including a description of any new projects the plan will propose.
Interim Planning Overlay Districts (IPOD) Short-term zoning code that may be adopted by the City for a geographic area which is undergoing a longer term planning or rezoning process. An IPOD requires consideration by the ZBA so that projects seeking approval in the near term will meet the goals of the longer term planning or rezoning process, rather than continuing current, likely outmoded, development patterns.
Land Disposition Agreement An agreement with the BPDA that governs the transfer and use of BPDA-owned parcels; typically recorded with the deed.
Large Project Review A comprehensive evaluation process conducted under Article 80 of the Boston Zoning Code that applies to new development projects spanning 50,000 square feet or more or rehabilitation projects totaling 100,000 square feet or more. During the large project review process, the Planning Department, guided by comments from the public and other City Departments, examines the impacts of a project on its immediate neighborhood and on the city as a whole. Depending upon the project’s impacts, the BPDA may require the developer to modify the project’s design or take other measures to reduce or mitigate those impacts.
Letter of Intent (LOI) The first document filed by a project proponent during the Article 80 process. The letter must provide details about the proposed project, including the location, general description, use, size, potential zoning relief, and any other relevant information regarding the project.
Linkage A law passed in 1986 by the Massachusetts legislature and the City of Boston, updated in 2023, that applies to new commercial developments over 100,000 square feet that require zoning relief. Linkage requires developers to pay into the linkage fund for the creation of housing and job training programs. Section 80B-7 (Article 80) of the Boston Zoning Code outlines the required payments, which are paid over seven (7) years. Recent changes to the Linkage Policy include lowering the threshold and exemption from 100,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet, increasing the total linkage fee over two years to $30.78 per square foot for lab space, and to $23.09 for other commercial uses, up from $15.39. Sixteen percent of the fees will support job training and job preparedness programs, while the remaining 84 percent will support the creation and preservation of affordable housing.
Lot A parcel of land in single ownership and not divided by a street.
Main Streets Originating as a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Main Street(s) programs arose as a means for advancing the preservation-based revitalization of commercial districts throughout the country. Boston Main Streets program supports a network of neighborhood-based Main Streets organizations that aim to preserve historic building stock while promoting commercial growth in Boston's historic commercial areas.
Major Modification Major modifications to urban renewal plans are those changes that substantially change the purpose or character of the plan. Major modifications generally require the approval of the BPDA, the Mayor, the Boston City Council, and the approval of the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) The state agency responsible for ensuring clean air and water, the safe management of toxics and hazards, the recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, the timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills, and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources.
Massachusetts Office of Building Development (MOBD) A state office with the mission of strengthening the economy and increasing job growth throughout Massachusetts by connecting businesses seeking to expand or locate in MA with resources, expertise, and incentive programs in the Commonwealth. It partners with businesses through the Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) to drive job creation and provide investment in our communities.
Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) State office which aims to balance the impacts of human activity with the protection of coastal and marine resources. CZM was established as a networked program meant to work with other state agencies, federal agencies, local governments, academic institutions, nonprofit groups, and the general public to promote sound management of the Massachusetts coast.
Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) The Mayor's Office of Housing provides services and programs to the City's neighborhoods through seven divisions: Administration & Finance, Director's Office, The Boston Home Center, Neighborhood Housing Development, Office of Business Development, Policy Development and Research, and Real Estate Management & Sales. The Mayor's Office of Housing is a department of the City of Boston's administration and works closely with the Planning Department.
Microgrid A microgrid is defined as a set of interconnected energy loads (such as a building) and District Energy Resources located within a clearly defined boundary (such as a neighborhood, district, or campus) and capable of operating as a single, controllable unit with respect to the grid. A microgrid can function while connected to the grid or when disconnected from the grid in what’s known as “island mode.”
Minor Modification Minor modifications to urban renewal plans are those that do not alter the fundamental essence of an urban renewal plan and require only the approval of the BPDA.
Nanogrid A nanogrid is an electricity generation and distribution system unit with respect to the grid that serves a single building. A nano-grid can function while connected to the grid, or when disconnected from the grid, it can maintain power independently in what’s known as “island mode.”
Neighborhood Design Overlay District (NDOD) The Neighborhood Design Overlay Districts are established to protect the historic character, existing scale, quality of the pedestrian environment, character of the residential neighborhoods, and concentrations of historic buildings within the districts.
Nonconforming Use A use or activity which was lawful prior to the adoption or amendment of the Zoning Code, but which does not, because of such adoption or amendment, conform to the present requirements of the Zoning Code.
Non-employer Business Defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as a business that has no paid employees, has annual business receipts of $1,000 or more, and is subject to federal income taxes. Most non-employers are self-employed individuals operating very small unincorporated businesses, which may or may not be the owner's principal source of income.
Non-housing Site Site where residential development is not allowed by zoning or other regulations.
Notice of Project Change (NPC) A document that may be filed by a project proponent if the project scope undergoes changes that are substantial enough to call for additional review and approval.
Park A designated open space that may be active (playground, ball field) or passive (benches, lawns, gardens). Parks may be owned and maintained by the City, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, or private/non-profit entities.
Parking Parking for vehicles may be surface, underground, or structured (above-ground parking garages).
Planned Development Area (PDA) An overlay zoning district that may be established under Articles 3 and 80 where a development that is well-suited to its location cannot be accommodated by the general zoning for the area. For example, a PDA may be appropriate where a development involves a large building, a cluster of buildings, or a mix of uses. No project may be built in a PDA unless it is described in detail in an approved PDA Development Plan. A PDA Development Plan must specify the proposed location, dimensions, and appearance of all buildings in the PDA, as well as all proposed uses, parking, and landscaping. PDAs may also detail public benefits.
Planned Development Area Amendment (PDA Amendment) Filed under the Article 80 process when a new project is to be added, or a major change made, to an existing Planned Development Area.
Preliminary Adequacy Determination (PAD) A possible requirement during the Article 80 review process. Following the submission of a project's Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR) and public comments, the BPDA may require additional information on certain project impacts. If this is the case, the BPDA will issue a PAD that outlines the impacts on which the applicant must provide further analysis. If a PAD is issued, the applicant must file a Final Project Impact Report (FPIR) that addresses the issues raised in the PAD.
Project Notification Form (PNF) The second document filed by a project proponent during the Article 80 process (the first being a Letter of Intent (LOI). A PNF describes the features of the proposed project and is available to the public for review and comment. After reviewing the contents of the PNF and the comments received from City agencies and the public, staff may issue a directive called a Scoping Determination describing the specific issues, if any, that the applicant must study further. Staff may also determine that the PNF is adequate and recommend approval to the BPDA Board.
Request for Proposals (RFP) A document issued by the City or BPDA when it requires goods or services from an outside contractor. RFPs are also issued for the disposition of property. The RFP outlines the scope of work or guidelines required in detail. Generally, RFP responses (or "bids") are reviewed by a committee, and a shortlist of proponents is invited to interview before a final proponent is selected.
Request for Qualifications (RFQ) A preliminary document issued by the City or BPDA when it requires goods or services from an outside contractor. An RFQ describes the scope of a contract for which the City or BPDA requires assistance and invites proponents to submit information about their experience and initial ideas. An RFQ may be used to narrow the pool of proponents for a subsequent RFP.
Restriction A limitation placed upon the use of property contained in the deed or other written instruments in the chain of title or in local ordinances pertaining to land use.
Scoping Determination A directive that may be issued during the Article 80 process after the filing of a Project Notification Form (“PNF”). If, after review of a project's PNF by the Planning Department, city agencies, and the public, it is determined that additional information is required, the BPDA will issue a Scoping Determination, which details which areas of the proposal require further study, to be included in a Draft Project Impact Report.
Small Business Administration (SBA) A federal agency that offers loans, loan guarantees, contracts, consulting sessions, and other forms of assistance to small businesses.
Small Project Review An Article 80 review process that engages the Planning Department’s Urban Design Division and allows for city agencies and the impacted community to weigh in on projects that do not meet the threshold for Large Project Review but that merit review because of their location, size, and use. In general, Small Project Review is required for projects that involve the addition of an aggregate gross floor area of 20,000 or more square feet and/or any project that results in the creation of 15 or more dwelling units.
Smart Utilities Plan (SUP) A Smart Utilities Plan (SUP) is a utility site plan that illustrates how a number of important infrastructure and utility installations will fit into a building’s footprint. Things that the Smart Utilities team looks for on a SUP include the locations of utility meters (domestic water, gas, electrical), utility connection locations and how those connections pass through the right of way (ROW), locations of green infrastructure (tree pits, permeable surfaces, retention tanks), and transformer locations.
Special Tax Assessment (STA) A partnership between a municipality and a Certified Project that results in a phased-in assessment of the total value of the property (both existing and new real estate) in return for job creation within that municipality. The agreement may last anywhere from 5 to 20 years and will take the following progression: In year one, 0% of the total assessed value is taxed, in year two up to 25% may be taxed, followed by up to 50% in year three, up to 75% in year four and up to 100% in years five and beyond.
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) A tax incentive available to businesses in Massachusetts. In return for substantial job creation, a municipality may provide a business with real estate property tax relief on the business’s incremental real estate property taxes for up to 20 years. In addition to a real estate property tax exemption, a business may be eligible for a personal property tax exemption for existing and new property (personal property is movable property, exclusive of land and buildings). Tax Increment Financing is not the same in MA as it is in most other states, where TIFs are used to fund infrastructure improvements using incremental property tax revenues.
Urban Renewal A federal government funding program that began with the passage of the Housing Act of 1949. Designed to create housing and promote economic development within the nation’s rapidly deteriorating inner cities, Urban Renewal was introduced to Boston in the 1950s and 1960s. The Urban Renewal program allows the BPDA certain tools to catalyze development within an Urban Renewal area, such as eminent domain, zoning controls, housing affordability restrictions, federal and state funding, and the opportunity to develop demonstration projects to enhance these neighborhoods.
Urban Renewal Overlay Districts Special zoning districts, as set forth in Section 3-1A(b) of the Boston Zoning Code and located within Urban Renewal areas, are commonly referred to as U Districts and created by a map amendment. These special zoning districts create the zoning for that area.
Variance A form of zoning relief to deviate from a specific requirement of the Zoning Code. Variances are granted by the Zoning Board of Appeal.
Work-only spaces Spaces where residential use is not allowed.
Zoning A tool used by the City to dictate the allowed shape, density, and use of development in a given area. Boston's Zoning Code incorporates a written code (describing setbacks, heights, allowed uses, densities, etc.) and maps that indicate which geographic areas are subject to which zoning guidelines.
Zoning Map Map documents that correspond with Boston's written Zoning Code to indicate which zoning requirements apply to which geographic area.