In a rare but detailed rejection, the BPDA on Friday said no to a Texas developer's plans to carve out a hillside along American Legion Highway next to the Stop&Shop/Walgreen's strip mall for a complex with 270 apartments in nine three-story buildings with 331 parking spaces.
The BPDA's "adequacy determination" that the proposed 990 American Legion project is not, in fact, adequate, does not mean the Lincoln Property Co. of Dallas can't develop the 14-acre Crane Ledge parcel it wants to buy from Jubilee Church of Mattapan but that it's going to have to radically reshape its proposal and provide far greater details on how its project will both meet city traffic, parking and public-transportation requirements than it's provided in the 18 months since it first filed its proposal.
The Urban Design department of the BPDA has made several attempts to steer this proponent toward a sustainable approach to architecture and landscape at 990 American Legion Highway and this proponent has been resistant to explore the majority of the proposals. ... We reiterate that this proposal is unsympathetic to this neighborhood in Hyde Park, to the existing landscape of Crane Ledge and to the spirit of residential, multi-family architecture in the city of Boston. ... The project's approach to site design is problematic in a multitude of ways. The site design proposes clear-cutting a largely forested site and replacing the existing urban wilds with a gated community. On an environmental scale, the design is exacerbating the urban heat island effect, increasing storm-water run-off, and reducing the urban canopy in a neighborhood that is an environmental justice area with largely communities of color. The community has already expressed a desire for some level of conservation on the site.
And even though Lincoln reduced the number of proposed parking spaces from 415 to 331, that's still more than the one-space-to-one-unit goal the BPDA now sets for new projects - which would mean more land being covered over by asphalt, the determination continues, adding:
The BPDA has previously requested that the proponent consider ways to decrease the environmental impact of this site through densification of parking, rather than a series of scattered surface parking areas. A parking garage that was more productive and could reduce the footprint of paved surfaces. The proponent states that the garden style housing typology and size of the Project Site warrants a parking layout that is convenient for the future residents. The argument is not consistent with city goals and not applicable in the City of Boston. The Project team should instead prioritize minimal environmental disturbance over minimizing the distance between residents' homes and their cars as is typical in a garden-style housing community. This is consistent with the City's priorities and the community's concerns for tree removal as reiterated at every juncture in this process.
The BPDA also provided examples for Lincoln of a number of hillside projects that work with the topography, rather than simply doing extensive blasting and tree removal. In fact, there's an existing winding, if crumbling road, from American Legion Highway to the top of the hill that provides an example to follow.
The undisturbed nature of this site at 990 American Legion Highway with an existing asphalt road that follows the contours of the land appears to offer some clues to a development scheme that would be harmonious with the context of this place. There are many precedents for the development of housing on steeply sloping sites. The nature of this site in particular, as it rises precipitously from American Legion Highway suggests a 3story / 2 story scheme which climbs up the hill offering parking beneath with living space sabove with all spaces flowing into the landscape.
Even aside from issues related to the destruction of much of the hillside in an "environmental justice" area, the BPDA determination is basically a series of examples of how the BPDA found the plans to date to be half-baked at best: A proposed connection to Ruskin Road would not meet city standards, transportation and bus assumptions are based on outdated figures and information, the plans fail to show where Lincoln would put city-required bicycle storage areas or how the public would get to use the ledge at the top of the hillside when Lincoln does not own that stretch of land.
As the first development project within a larger collection of undeveloped parcels, the proponent has a higher level of responsibility to design a street network that does not preclude future street connections through and to the site. Essentially, the project proposes one access point into a cul-de-sac development. The street network provides no other physical connections to its abutting neighborhoods. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles have only one option for getting into and out of the site. This significantly reduces permeability and connectivity through the site and to the existing neighborhoods.
To buttress the point, the BPDA included part of a transcript from an August meeting of the Boston Civic Design Commission on the Lincoln filings:
Andrea Leers: I wonder whether this is ready for us to be reviewing. It’s a project in a very particular topography and neighborhood, and we see no images whatsoever of the ground/topographic layout, what exists there now, the rationale of site sections, adjacent buildings... this is without context. It is premature for us to even be looking at this. We are looking at flat floor plans as if the site were flat. Most trees would be removed. We need to see the nature of what exists there now, and several options of how to occupy this land given the site. I do not think it’s useful at this point to comment on architecture at this point.
Complete determination of adequacy (19.4M PDF).
990 American Legion Highway filings.