Overview: A recent report commissioned by the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) has triggered the first significant update to Boston’s aging zoning code in over 60 years. The move addresses concerns the report raises on current regulations hindering residential development.
- Report Insights: Authored by Sara Bronin of the National Zoning Atlas, the report criticized the city’s existing zoning code for its “extreme length and inconsistencies.” It pointed out that such complexities prevent most residents from understanding the code. The consequence is an uphill battle for the city in creating new housing units and necessitating residents to seek legal help for minor modifications to their homes or businesses.
- Mayor’s Stance: Mayor Michelle Wu emphasized the crucial role of city governance in shaping neighborhood growth. Wu criticized the existing system, citing its “confusing and inconsistent process of handing out exceptions.” By reforming the current system, Wu believes that Boston can offer a more predictable and equitable structure that aligns with the community’s needs.
- Comparison: At nearly 4,000 pages, Boston’s zoning code is about 40% lengthier than New York City’s. This is significant given that New York has a population 13 times larger and six times the land area. The last comprehensive update to Boston’s code dates back to 1964.
- Zoning Code Challenges: The BPDA asserts that the code’s length doesn’t offer clarity. Instead, it impedes residents from engaging in the planning process and complicates the housing development process.
- Future Plans: Arthur Jemison, Chief of Planning, committed to the report’s recommendations. Jemison emphasized the necessity for a contemporary zoning code to establish a solid framework for growth.
- Restructured Planning Department: As part of the initiative, the city announced restructuring the Planning Department. It will feature new teams dedicated to zoning reform, compliance, and comprehensive planning, replacing the previous neighborhood planning division.
Looking Ahead: With the city’s commitment to revamp the outdated zoning code, the upcoming changes are expected to pave the way for a more accessible and efficient housing development process in Boston.