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Boston’s Chief Planner: Mayor Walsh Not Tied to Greenway Guidelines or Heights for Downtown Development [Video]

Chief Planner, Kairos Shen, of the Boston Redevelopment Authority presented “Planning Area Urban Design Context” on Wednesday, March 26th, to the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Planning Advisory Committee.

Shen began by comparing the key role of New York City’s Central Park to that of the Inner Boston Harbor after the cleanup. Both the Inner Harbor and Central Park approximate 900 acres. He followed up with an aerial image timeline of downtown Boston from 1630 through today to highlight changes in the land mass and the impact of defining characteristics such as the Central Artery and today’s Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Within the Downtown Waterfront planning area, Shen highlighted recent developments at the Intercontinental Hotel and Russia / Atlantic Wharf by explaining the unique forces that molded their designs. In a similar way, the BRA is looking for creative ideas to support continued parcel development as part of the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan.

Key parcels for development include the Harbor Garage and Hook Lobster sites where zoning will be codified at the end of the planning process. In reviewing the methodology of the planning effort, Shen referred to the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway District Planning Study (GDPS) Guidelines, approved by the BRA in 2010.

Shen shared his recent discussions with Mayor Walsh’s office that the new mayor is “neither retreating nor endorsing those conclusions (from the Greenway District Planning Study) because he did not have the benefit of a public process that he is responsible for.” The Chief Planner said that Walsh is looking for the current advisory committee and BRA to put new ideas on the table so he can review the Municipal Harbor Plan in the context of his own policy initiatives for the downtown area.

With regards to height, Walsh asked, “How high can you go?” according to Shen, in reference to the development parcels. Within the planning area, this could open the door to greater heights for developers at the Harbor Garage and Hook Lobster parcels, among others. In the GDPS, these heights were established at 200 feet.

Toward the end of the session, the committee discussed with Shen whether the mayor’s comments should broaden its mission beyond simply creating zoning recommendations based on the 2010 Greenway District Planning Study.

Shen also told the audience that he has told Mayor Walsh he would like to continue as the BRA’s Chief Planner in Boston as part of the new administration.

View the full presentation and discussion from the meeting in the video above.