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Is new Brighton development too much?

In recent months, 427 units of housing have been proposed in a small Brighton neighborhood:

New Balance has proposed 295 units at 125 Guest St. as part of its massive Boston Landing development. The 17-story building abuts the New Balance athletic facility where the Bruins will practice and New Balance's flagship, ship-like building lines the Massachusetts Turnpike.

A few blocks away at 530-580 Western Ave., the Mount Vernon Co. has proposed 132 units of housing on the old Dewalt (Black and Decker) building and the Autobahn USA used car lot.

At a BRA public meeting about New Balance's 125 Guest St. project tonight, 50 members of the Allston/Brighton community voiced concerns that these two developments, when coupled with all construction Harvard is doing along Wester Avenue are stressing the existing city infrastructure - such as Leo Birmingham Parkway and the intersection of Soldiers Field Road and Western Avenue.

New Balance committed to supporting mitigation efforts in these areas, but the intersections in question span roads owned by the city of Boston, DCR, MassDOT and Watertown, a nexus that could muddle efforts for comprehensive traffic planning.

What will happen in Brighton? Who will take ownership to fix the infrastructure? Time will tell.

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NOPE it's not enough build more. Last checked average rents in that neighborhood are hovering around 2 grand!

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I do kind of worry, though, that ALL the development gets concentrated in these sacrificial zones, mostly former industrial areas, probably because that where there aren't too many NIMBYs around and no existing residential context to impede rezoning to high densities. So it may well be that it's not too good to have so much new development all concentrated in one place. But that doesn't in any way change the need for the city to be approving much more development given the general shortage of housing.

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By building more housing in a desirable area, you just "induce demand" rather than solve existing demand. Look at how many properties are bought as investments from people who don't live here year round. There are no restrictions on that. This region is relatively small compared to the supply of people looking for investment properties.

However, the region is mostly built out. Large amounts of more housing will create more transit problems without solving the existing housing problem to a reasonable to any reasonable degree. That doesn't mean more housing shouldn't get built, but it needs to be done with consideration for the surroundings.

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Induced demand and existing demand are sometimes a little hard to tell apart. Let's say you have someone living outside 128, working downtown and they can afford to spend $1,300 on rent and commuting expenses, which is currently split $1,000 on rent, $300 on commuting. They'd prefer to move closer to work to save on commuting time, but living closer costs $1,300 in rent and commuting would still be $150, which is more than they can afford.

If enough additional housing is built that rent closer to downtown would be $1,150, then this person can afford to live downtown and chooses to move, since they break even financially and save a bunch of time every day. This demand is "induced" in that the person was previously not interested in a closer-to-downtown property, but it's "existing" in that they wanted to live in the area before rents came down. (Yes, it's unlikely that rents would quickly fall by $150/month anyway, but you'd see the same effect, to a smaller degree, with a $50/month or even $30/month decline.)

The person in this example is better off because they have more time every day, and society is better off because that person is either driving less or more likely to use mass transit. Existing property owners are worse off because the value of the existing units they own has fallen, and local residents are worse off because of increased congestion (either on the roads or subway/bus). The impact on the "character" of a neighborhood is highly, highly subjective. So as with most policy, there are "winners" and "losers", and as it currently stands people who would "lose" have more political power and so there are restrictions on new development.

My point here is that saying that "new housing just induces demand", with the implication that induced demand can be clearly separated from existing demand isn't wrong, exactly, but is an oversimplification.

Separately - if the argument is that most new housing gets snapped up by investors who don't live in it or rent it, how would that increase congestion? Building residential properties which sit empty wouldn't generate more traffic.

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The problem is your entire post didn't factor in demand from people who are not from here. You are just focused on the locals that might want to live closer. These are completely separate markets. There are people who are looking at homes or investments here from other states, or even elsewhere, and demand from those markets can be "induced" based on new investing opportunities resulting from development.

Yes, people in the state who just wanted to move a little closer and were waiting for the opportunity could probably be described as "existing demand". Someone could have "induced demand" who decides that the new developments are good investments but perhaps wasn't considering them before could be described as "induced."

"The impact on the "character" of a neighborhood is highly, highly subjective."

It's actually not as subjective here when the city and region has so many existing architecturally interesting neighborhoods that are contrasted with the newer developments. In other parts of the country with less interesting architecture the new development is less noticeable.

"Separately - if the argument is that most new housing gets snapped up by investors who don't live in it or rent it, how would that increase congestion? Building residential properties which sit empty wouldn't generate more traffic."

The argument wasn't that "most" sit empty, you are misrepresenting the argument. However, quite a few do, and others are bought by people who don't live here and are then rented back. The point is, that large amounts of development, without any restrictions, would create increases in both. Again, you need to factor in demand from outside the region. Speculative demand can be created based on new development opportunities.

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I do kind of worry, though, that ALL the development gets concentrated in these sacrificial zones, mostly former industrial areas, probably because that where there aren't too many NIMBYs around and no existing residential context to impede rezoning to high densities.

Well, you might reconsider placing the NIMBY label on any hypothetical person who might hypothetically have concerns about development in their neighborhood -- being a concerned citizen is a good thing, and you need to give their concerns a hearing before you can really judge that they're NIMBYs. In the cases you talk about, there are no NIMBYs because there are no people, as you say. That's why former industrial areas make sense, no? So the concern may be less about immediate neighborhood impact (there currently being no immediate neighborhood) and more about infrastructure impact. A lot of traffic currently goes through that area, North Beacon and Market both being straight shots, and you know how it is when you add a large business or residence that suddenly means a lot of left-turners on a particular street...just a guess.

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acknowledges the problem the proposed project is intended to solve, and offers an alternative solution. Or, at the very least, they support their objections to the proposed solution with tanglble proof.

A NIMBY just objects to whatever is proposed and given no thought as to how to solve the problem at hand (and "don't build it" is not a solution).

Unfortunately, by placing the burden of proof on the project proponents to disprove claims or concerns, the current system encourages far more NIMBYs than "concerned citizens."

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There's no problem with that. People who live in the neighborhoods should have sway over what gets built near them.

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The local real estate market doesn't work that way.

The problem is that there is so much demand from outside the region that you can't really add enough inventory to solve quickly the problem. Rent's aren't easily going to adjust even if you build beyond far beyond what the roads and transit are designed to handle. The result will just be to add congestion without any significant affect on real estate prices, and the infrastructure can only improve so quickly. This is true not just for the city itself but the surrounding area.

That the city had a slightly bigger population years ago is not really relevant because the population of the surrounding region was much smaller years ago, as well as there being fewer cars per capita, and more families and people sharing rooms instead of entire condos going to one person.

Even if building a huge amount of housing quickly did work, driving down rents means driving down property values for families that own homes, which is not what people would want either. It would also remove a lot of the region's unique character.

There are no easy answers to this, but simply building without considering the larger implications of growth is not the solution.

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It would also remove a lot of the region's unique character.

"Would"? Let's pump the breaks, because that's a solid "could" at best. Building on old train yards and warehouses is not removing unique character.

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You clearly didn't even read the post you replied to. It's talking about the whole region, not just a single place.

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You clearly didn't even ready the post you're replying to, because I'm comment on the difference between "would" (which is unknowable and unprovable) and "could".

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That is irrelevant, because the post wasn't focused on industrial areas, it was talking about the entire region.

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The post repeatedly mentioned the city and region as a whole, and wasn't talking about a single piece of land.

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(a) New Balance has already committed to reconstructing the "Birmingham Parkway / Western Avenue / Arsenal Street" intersection. They additionally committed to improvements to the nearby "Arsenal Street / Greenough Boulevard", "Birmingham Parkway / Lathrop Street / Soldiers Field Off-Ramp", and "Birmingham Parkway / Lincoln Street" intersections. Additionally, a key part of these improvements will be their commitment to "Interconnect DCR signals to the BTD system". This interconnect will allow improved signal timing here.

(b) New Balance has done a great job working with a multitude of public agencies to make improvements to the area. They have worked with both city and state agencies to make the commuter rail happen and they can do so for these intersections.

(c) Do you think some of the people who live in the New Balance building might want to take the newly constructed commuter rail? Or some of the people who live there might even work at New Balance (or one of the other companies in Boston/Brighton Landing)? This is the advantage of dense housing close to public transit and places to work, rather than suburban sprawl completely separated from either.

(d) The 530-580 Western Ave complex is located on 70/70A corridor, which leads to large job centers in both directions: Cambridge to the East and the Arsenal to the West. It is also on the 86, which leads to Harvard Square. It seems the best way to reduce traffic would be to improve the 70/70A and increase the frequency of the 86. While we're at it, we could improve the frequency of the 64 to help people commute from the New Balance development into Kendall Square.

In short, New Balance already anticipated the need to rebuild this intersection, and many of those surrounding, and made the commitment to do so. They have shown the ability to work with multiple agencies already in this project and have created high quality infrastructure where they have been involved. These developments provide residential close to public transit and expanding job centers (Boston Landing, Arsenal in Watertown). Rather than advocating for decreasing housing, we should advocate for improving the bus service which will help not just serve the increased population here, but along the entire bus routes.

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I always appreciate hearing from folks with actual knowledge.

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That's a strangely snide post, considering there's a lot of good discussion in this thread, but perhaps you were only commenting on the post above you.

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New Balance has really been a great example of a Private/Public team up, and should be a standard a lot of these fly by night private developers should be held to.

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The commitments that New Balance has made to make Birmingham Parkway safer are "will be complete at or near issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy for the full build-out of the Office Buildings Project."

When will this be? At last night's meeting, New Balance would not provide even an approximate date by which these safety improvements will be made, saying that it depends on the future demands of the real estate market and we can't predict the future.

In the meantime, Mayor Walsh just announced the Vision Zero Boston Transportation Safety Concerns Map and the Western Ave / Birmingham Parkway area has been tagged by many people for being so unsafe.

I certainly appreciate everything New Balance does for Allston/Brighton and I welcome all this new construction. At the end of the day, we pay taxes to the City and State and I hope we will see their leadership to fix Birmingham Parkway soon.
IMAGE(https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1661/24330133370_b9e7bb3c5b_z.jpg)">https://flic.kr/p/D4Yi17][img]https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1661/243301...

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You can't "solve" transportation problems by pretending that the massive housing shortage doesn't exist.

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No one is saying that, but you can avoid making two problems worse at the same time with longer term planning.

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No one is saying that

LOL. First time in Boston?

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If you build without scaling the transit, you don't offer more affordable rents because of no restrictions on speculation, and you make transit problems worse. It's really simple.

It's hilarious that a transplant is asking if someone else is a local when that person might have had roots here for generations. Keep focusing on random diversion rather than addressing the core arguments.

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People have to live somewhere. If we refuse to build it in Boston, more people have to live farther out, and commute farther. That causes more congestion, not less.

Greater density, near public transportation, is the correct answer.

New Balance deserves appreciation for their corporate citizenship, not a nimby dogpile.

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Without restrictions on non resident ownership and speculation there's going to continue to be a lot of demand driving prices up for a while.

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How is your comment relevant to the buildings discussed, which are fully rentals that will be owned by large corporations?

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It's relevant because people were posting like this was going to reduce rental prices in the area, but instead it's all one big market.

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Boston has consistently grown at about 1% per year for a long, long time. I've argued before that we need about 1% housing growth to go along with that.

These are far from exact numbers - but assuming 25 or so "neighborhoods" of 10,000 units of housing each - the natural growth rate is about 100 units. BUT - you have to take out a few areas - difficult to impossible to add units in the historic neighborhoods. Also, there has been huge development in some neighborhoods for years - downtown, Fenway, South Boston etc.

So now it's time for other neighborhoods - especially the western neighborhoods have to pick up the slack - say growth of 1.5%. The city needs 2500 units of housing a year to keep up with its growth. If you don't want them in Brighton - that's fine - then you need somewhere else good to put them? And that's not 2500 one time. That's 2500 every year forever - actually more with compounding, so assuming these don't all come on line at once - but perhaps over 2-3 years - that should mean that Brighton is doing its part for at least most of the rest of the decade. Unfortunately, what I see is that development concentrates in certain neighborhoods for a while and then moves somewhere else, so I'd gird for more over the next 10 years until another neighborhood gets "hot".

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Boston and the region is an almost completely built out city, it's not like cities in other parts of the country that don't have history and can expand easily.

Perpetual growth in this issue is not sustainable, and to suggest it's always the right thing for a region is not practical.

The reality is not every city has to maximize it's growth. This area is extremely successful despite it's size. If there isn't enough capacity here, people can go elsewhere.

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I disagree with your comment that Boston is a completely built out city. I am surprised at how much underutilized and vacant land we have in Boston and surrounding area. Just look at Widdett Circle, Beacon Yards, South Bay Center, Seaport parking lots, Assembly Square - Sullivan Square, North Point, Roxbury, JFK UMass area, Brighton (New Balance), JP along orange line, and so many one floor commercial properties sprinkled throughout the city. On one hand, we are not using these land parcels effectively and quickly enough to solve our housing problems driving up the housing costs. On the other hand, the city is not maximizing tax collections from these properties, which could have been used to improve transportation, schools, and more affordable housing.

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The city of Boston is filled with former industrial land and urban renewal hellscapes. This area is full of place to build - like Lower Allston, where the boom is just starting. Frequent busses like the 70 and 66 should not go through blighted empty landscapes for pieces of their route - that's just a waste.

Furthermore, the idea that "urban character" necessarily includes vast stretches of urban prairie, abandoned industrial, and underbuilt schlock is inhuman and insane.

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The land you are speaking of only forms a small percentage of the total land. Also, building on it would require more investment in transit.

"Furthermore, the idea that "urban character" necessarily includes vast stretches of urban prairie, abandoned industrial, and underbuilt schlock is inhuman and insane."

No one said that, exactly, but at the same time the less dense areas of the city and the neighborhoods do not have to change just because others think they should.

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You call this built out, three miles from downtown and right next to a subway station?

https://goo.gl/maps/vALR22UrUhk

Urban-"renewed" parts of Boston are full of desolate streetscapes such as this.

Compare some aerial shots from 2012 and 1938 (from historicaerials.com) if you want to see how much density parts of Boston have lost to accommodate the car. Now tell with me a straight face that Boston is "built out".

http://i.imgur.com/j75YRD9.jpg

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/j75YRD9.jpg)

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So I can click on this again

Boston isn't built out - it's not even built back.

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Wrong. The combined metro area was half what is was today.

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Steve,

Many of us do want more housing in Allston & Brighton, and I think the data below shows that our neighborhoods (especially Allston) are certainly doing "our fair share" of supporting growth in Boston. My hope is that as more housing and jobs are added, there will also be more investment in safer roads, public transit, parks, and other infrastructure.

Harry

Boston's population grew by 4.8 percent in the past decade to hit 617,594
Between 2000-2010, Brighton's population grew 4 percent to 45,801
http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/allston_brighton/2011/04/census_data...

Allston - Brighton 2000-2010 Change
Total population: 69,648 to 74,997 = 7.7%
Total Housing Units 30,988 to 31,912 = 3.0%
https://data.cityofboston.gov/dataset/Allston-Brighton-Planning-District...

Allston 2000-2010 Change
Total population: 25,623 to 29,196 = 13.9%
Total Housing Units 10,373 to 11,095 = 7.0%
https://data.cityofboston.gov/dataset/Allston-Neighborhood-2010-Census-P...

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If Allston alone grew by 7%, but Allston-Brighton by only 3%, while the region grew at 4-5%, Brighton is most certainly not pulling its weight, If you factor out Allston from this - it looks like they are expanding at about half the rate of the rest of the city - in an area overripe for development.

Two things that do need to be considered though - a) it's never going to be a smooth line in any one neighborhood - I think we can agree on that. There will always be "spurts" and we have to manage that more by the decade than the year b) - this may not be as "agreeable"- many of the neighborhoods west of Mass Ave have much more room to grow, especially on a percentage basis. Drive down Comm Ave, Centre Street and other main thoroughfares and they are loaded with single story retail. These streets should be LINED with 3-5 story apartment and condo buildings.

Sure - we need transit, safe streets and more - but part of the way we pay for that is with this growth (and allocating our budgets appropriately).

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I frequently don't agree with Stevil, but I think he's very right on this.

I was just in Hyde park yesterday, looking at at all the closed down, crappy single story retail, thinking this used to be the main road out of Boston, a straight shot out, there's bedrock down there. Why the hell isnt this all high rise?

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Single story retail in the southern neightborhoods is a complete SHAME. Slap two stories of housing on top of all of it and expand out the transit network to alleviate the traffic impacts. No reason for it whatsoever.

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That area is suburban and the kind of development you want would be out of character with it.

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It is not sustainable to pay for transit improvements with more growth, because that increase in population will require even more transit along with it.

That's not a reasonable argument. Boston is already extremely successful with it's given population size.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I've been living in Boston my whole life. I'm literally at the point where I don't care where new development goes. At this point even if the South End is completely leveled and density reaches Manhattan levels I wouldnt give a crap. Build a cover over the Charles river and build there I don't care.

I just want rents to be at the point where those working non professional jobs can afford them. I worry more about families and the elderly who can't afford skyrocketing rents than I do about myself. I live with my parent's not because I cant afford to live in a shoebox, because they wouldnt be able to afford 2 grand for rent. Also a misconception about many people in the city whom don't have cars is not by choice, its because they cant afford to have one.

Also I would prefer rents to be at a point where people can actually save money and put towards a down payment on a house so you can eventually own something and not have to pay a monthly mortgage! People need to remember that sheltering yourself will be the largest expense in life so do it smartly.

BTW my biggest gripe about gentrification is that many neighborhoods in Boston were s**tholes where no one including the poor ever wanted to live. People think eastie is bad now try 10-12 years ago when I was in middle school. It just freaking sucks that once your neighborhood is actually, safer, cleaner, friendlier you cant afford to live in it anymore. And if you don't believe me look up the crime stats for the city.

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