Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Boston City Council Looks At Wetlands, Zoning, Winthrop Square Dollars, Recovery, Scooters & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their October 3 and October 17, 2018 meetings:

Appointment: The Mayor appointed Kathleen Joyce as the Chair of the Boston Licensing Board, for a term expiring June 1, 2020. 

Zoning Code for Gross Floor Area: Councilors O’Malley and Baker filed a zoning text amendment that would redefine Gross Floor Area in the Boston Zoning Code to be measured from the interior of the wall, rather than the exterior. This would give developers more flexibility to have thicker walls with increased insulation in their buildings, making buildings more energy efficient and decreasing the buildings’ carbon footprint. The current zoning code defines the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) as the ratio of the gross floor area of a structure to the total area of the lot, and the Gross Floor Area as the sum of areas of the several floors of the structure as measured by the exterior faces of the wall, and so thicker walls count against the allowable development space. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation. 

Car-Free Day: I called for a hearing to explore planning a Car-Free Day in Boston. Cities around the world have been joining together to encourage public transit, walking and bicycling and even shutting down streets to vehicular traffic on certain days for health, climate, and community benefit. When Paris hosted their first Car-Free Day in 2015, the city saw the level of certain pollutants drop by 40% and the noise level cut in half. The average Boston-area driver spends 60 hours a year in traffic, which not only frustrates commuters but impacts our environment and public health with emissions that contribute to climate change and pollution. Boston has seen very successful limited car-free initiatives such as Open Newbury, Circle the City, and block parties in every neighborhood. Streets and sidewalks comprise of 14% of public spaces controlled by the City, and we should explore ways that we can maximize those spaces for people as the City’s population increases. The matter was assigned to the Planning, Development, and Transportation Committee for a hearing.

Local Wetlands Protection Ordinance: I filed an ordinance in partnership with Councilor O’Malley aimed at strengthening the City’s ability to fight climate change and reasonably regulate development. The Local Wetlands Protection Ordinance would empower the Boston Conservation Commission to require green infrastructure with new development, including protections for urban wetlands and natural resource areas, and explicitly adopt climate change adaptation as a resource area value. These areas are important not just for conservation of open space and wildlife habitats, but to manage rain, flooding and heat. Especially in light of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last week, with over 1,000 scientists over 2.5 years concluding that the world may have only twelve years left to keep greenhouse gas emissions below a threshold that keeps the planet livable, we must take every possible action to reduce energy demand, increase renewable energy supply, and transform our land use policies to align with climate change mitigation and adaptation. Boston is currently one of the only three coastal municipalities without such a municipal ordinance adding protections beyond the state baselines. The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

Winthrop Square Proceeds: The Council voted to authorize a disbursement of $105.4 million dollars from the sale of the Winthrop Square garage parcel to Millennium Partners and , which recently closed. As designated earlier, this funding will be allocated as one-time funding supports for improvements and to create trusts for the Boston Common, Franklin Park, and the Greenway Conservancy, as well as the redevelopment of Boston Housing Authority’s Old Colony development in South Boston and Orient Heights development in East Boston. Here is the breakdown (including $1.6M from the FY19 capital budget)

  • $23M for Franklin Park improvements
  • $23M for Boston Common improvements
  • $11M for Emerald Necklace improvements
  • $15M for the creation of 3 trusts ($5M each for Boston Commo, Franklin Park, and the Greenway) whose interest will fund maintenance of these parks
  • $25M for the Old Colony Development
  • $10M for the Orient Heights Development

Siting Recovery Facilities: Councilors Edwards, McCarthy & Essaibi-George filed a hearing order to discuss regulations on the proximity of alcohol and cannabis establishments to recovery facilities. Currently there are regulations governing the proximity between these facilities and schools and on minimum distance from other cannabis establishments. The sponsors stated that the city should address how it can fairly encourage businesses while also protecting the public health of our residents. The matter was assigned to the Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery Committee for a hearing. 

Dockless Mobility and Electric Scooters: Councilor O’Malley reported back on a hearing that I chaired on Monday regarding micromobility and dockless scooters. The technology allows for electric, motorized scooters that can travel up to 15mph with a goal of providing first- and last-mile connections to transit. At the hearing representatives from the City, micromobility companies and advocates discussed changes that would be needed to state law to authorize scooters. Boston is working on a regional pilot with our municipal partners in the bike share system (Cambridge, Brookline & Somerville) to launch a dockless scooter pilot, potentially next spring.

For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically. 

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