Well, that Settles it: No boutique hotel for Arlington Street

The Boston Business Journal reports on the end of Darryl Settles' plans for a hotel.



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    Yay Nimbys!

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    So, can someone go through the legal mumbo-jumble that allows one to sue for the "view". I've never understood this, as you have no claim to whats on someone else property, nor to the airspace above it.

    Zoning applies obviously, but once again thanks to a few individuals a neighborhood and the city is going to be detrimentally effected because they can't used to the fact that they live in a freaking city.

    That vacant, decaying property is going to do wonders for the neighborhood.

    You want a view, move to a farmhouse or lake house.

    The skinny on the mumbo jumbo

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    As I understand it - it works like this (others please chime in):

    There is zoning for every part of Boston - from single family houses generally up to several hundred feet of concentrated development - plus usage - various types of residential, office, hotel, industrial light industrial etc. These specifications can't be violated (and in certain areas like the Back Bay and Beacon Hill there are even stricter rules because they are deemed historic districts).

    Small exceptions generally must be granted a variance. Reasons like "Because I want to" or "Because I overpaid for a property and now I have to overdevelop it to make my money back" - like in this case are not valid. Generally you need at least the non-opposition of your neighbors. If they oppose it's almost impossible unless there are fairly severe mitigating circumstances. You know these rules going in so "we live in a city and therefore I should be allowed to build to the sky" is not valid. Why? Well it keeps your neighbor from building a gasoline refinery next to your condo, it keeps your neighbor from building a traffic inducing strip mall in an area full of kids and multi-family houses, it keeps your neighbor from building a McMansion with walls that now loom 2.5 feet from your property line and prized rosebush - etc. etc. etc. This is what we call the rule of law and civilization. If you don't like it - move to Houston where there is little or no zoning and they have things like this.

    If a neighbor opposes, there is little you can do with two major exceptions. If you have more than an acre of property and build to a certain size (I think 50k sf) you can get the BRA to declare a Planned Development Area or PDA (the Prudential and Liberty mutual's new HQ are a couple of examples of PDAs)- then the BRA gets to set the zoning - that's how most large development gets done but also why to appease the neighborhoods there are usually various forms of "mitigation" aka bribery. The other major exception is turnpike property which until recently had no zoning - although now there are some state limitations on it that they have to abide by underlying zoning heights I believe. Granted, the big limitation is that no private developer has proven themselves able to build a support deck over the turnpike without public assistance.

    The blame is not on the individuals who are trying to protect their property values and their own property rights. The blame is on the zoning which is outdated and needs to be changed in many areas - probably mostly in Western Boston where we could go a long way to alleviating the housing shortage if we razed all the single family houses and built low to mid-rise condos, townhouses etc. with 5 times the density. Good luck on that one though. Try starting in Hyde Park where the mayor lives. :-)

    Did you read the article?

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    Project was approved by the ZBA. Your dissertation misses the point, no?

    Not the final arbiter

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    The ZBA often approves things later disallowed by the courts - I'm not an expert on this end of things -but the city frequently permits things they want to see get done because they know that it's extremely hard to get "standing" on a lawsuit - i.e. few people that are affected are willing to put up the time and the money to challenge their decisions with an actual lawsuit - so even if it's illegal it gets pushed through. I don't know the particulars in this case - but just because the ZBA allows it doesn't mean that's the last word. That right goes to the courts and if you are a developer seeking a variance to get your project approved it's a known risk - you have to account for that possibility.

    I believe Menino appoints the members of the ZBA -again others chime in if you know for sure - if so that speaks for itself in how things do and don't get done around here and why you need the protection of the courts - apparently frequently (though not necessarily rightly) per this article:


    Zoning is stupid and out of control

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    It's all well and good to protect folks from unsafe industrial usages, but it doesn't take a ridiculous amount of severely anal-retentive regulations to accomplish that. It's a red herring to bring up "gasoline refineries" as a justification for zoning, when the real problem is that it's being used against people who just want to add another floor to their building.

    Fact is, once it got away from ensuring basic public safety, zoning became used as a weapon against cities. People want any excuse to exercise power over others, and this is just one of those ways. Give them an inch, and they'll take a mile of sprawl-inducing regulation. You're right that the zoning needs to be changed, but it needs more than that, it needs to be radically reformed.

    BTW, to claim that zoning "protects" property values is almost directly in contradiction with your example earlier about someone "overpaying and needing to overdevelop." Remember, development potential goes together with property values -- if you down-zone a parcel then that land becomes less valuable because you cannot legally build structures that bring in higher revenue on it.

    And by imposing zoning, folks are not protecting their own property rights -- they are attacking other people's property rights instead. Somewhere in the last century, people got the idea that they are entitled to attack other people's property rights for reasons that have nothing to do with public safety.

    P.S. Houston has "restrictive convenants" which are basically zoning by another name.

    Nobody's "imposing" zoning

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    Wow, I don't even know where to start. First, the notion that zoning is "anti-city." Zoning is why Boston still has a residential downtown; it's part of why people like to live and work downtown. Effective zoning is incredibly pro-city.

    Second, I'd have a modicum of sympathy for the owner of a property that had been "downzoned" but that's almost never the case. Generally, it's someone who buys the property at market price, which fully reflects whatever zoning restrictions are in place, and then tries to create a windfall for himself by getting the zoning restrictions lifted. That's taking a gamble, and if it doesn't work out, then cry me a river: it's not like someone blindsided you.

    Why zoning is anti-city

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    Zoning, Euclidean-style as invented in the beginning of the 20th century, is poisonous to cities. The vitality of cities is due to the mixture of uses: residential, retail, commercial, and even (safe) industrial uses coming together in the same space. On the other hand, the whole raison d'etre of Euclidean zoning is separation of uses. This might work for some suburbs. But the application of Euclidean zoning to American cities was literally killing them for the better part of the last century.

    Is it possible to have zoning which isn't poisonous to cities? Yes, but it is completely different from what most people consider to be "zoning."

    I believe the phrase you're looking for is "mixed use"

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    If you really want unfettered mixing of uses, as somebody suggested, Houston's your city. Or for that matter, Framingham, where decisions made 50-60 years ago mean Rte. 9 malls butt right up against pricey backyards and a chemical plant sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

    Boston does have mixed-use zoning: Look at Downtown Crossing, where you've now got several thousand people living atop commercial enterprises. For that matter, the main streets in the South End and the North End are like that, too. Hey, just like Manhattan!

    Give the mayor and the BRA their due: That's what they're planning for the Innovation District (whether the current area will fill in nicely and become a great urban neighborhood or a sterile wasteland like downtown Atlanta is, I guess, something we won't know for a while).

    Your Euclidean ideal gave us Charles River Park. I like to think we've learned from that.

    Just because things didn't go exactly the way Darryl Settles wanted (again) doesn't mean there's something fundamentally wrong with Boston.

    "Mixed use" zoning

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    It's an attempt to reintroduce what was the norm over a century ago but within the framework of Euclidean zoning, which preserves the use of political power as a weapon against cities. People did come to realize that segregated uses are deadly to city life, but they are unwilling to give up their ability to extract concessions from developers. Remember, the North End is the way it is not because of zoning, but despite zoning, because the community fought back against the efforts to pull it apart. Else, it would look like Charles River Park. Downtown Crossing is just beginning to come back, and makes for a pitiful example. Sure, people live downtown in Boston, but in numbers that are only impressive when compared to cities like Pittsburgh.

    I'm skeptical of the mayor or anyone's ability to successfully "plan" anything but a sterile neighborhood. Great urban neighborhoods are the result of thousands of people making thousands of plans, not one overarching vision.

    P.S. "My Euclidean ideal?" I thought I made it clear that I consider Euclidean zoning to be dystopic.

    blame it all on the nimbys?

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    Hey the Nimbys are stupid selfish morons but if one lawsuit, which has since been dropped, can scuttle this entire venture, I question the strength of the venture to begin with.