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Boston City Council Considers Eliminating Parking Requirements for Affordable Housing Developments

5:18 PM EDT on May 19, 2021

3368 Washington rendering credit RODE Architects/BPDA

A rendering of a proposed Pine Street Inn supportive housing development in Jamaica Plain. In 2020, a neighboring landlord sued to block the project over fears that it could be more difficult to find free on-street parking. Courtesy of RODE Architects/BPDA.

Responding to recent lawsuits in which property owners exploit convoluted zoning rules to block affordable housing, Councilors Kenzie Bok and Matt O'Malley introduced a zoning petition to eliminate parking requirements for low-income apartment projects at Wednesday's Boston City Council meeting.

The proposed order would formally petition the Zoning Commission to amend Article 23 of Boston's zoning code to specify that "in the case of residential housing entirely for persons of low-income, no off-street parking shall be required."

The order's sponsors cited recent lawsuits in which the owners and landlord of the Turtle Swamp Brewing in Jamaica Plain went to court to block and delay the construction of affordable housing nearby.

As previously reported on StreetsblogMASS, Monty Gold, the owner of Turtle Swamp’s building at 3377 Washington St., last year filed a lawsuit to overturn the city's approvals for 202 new apartments and associated social services for formerly homeless individuals across the street at at 3368 Washington St.

That lawsuit delayed the project for nearly a year, and was recently settled only after Gold was able to extort extra parking lease agreements from the project's nonprofit developers.

Earlier this month, Gold and the owners of Turtle Swamp Brewery each filed new lawsuits against another proposed affordable housing building that's been proposed on the lot next door to the brewery.

That project aims to create 38 affordable homes for seniors, plus a new restaurant space for El Embajador Restaurant.

Citing those lawsuits at Wednesday's City Council meeting, Councilor Bok told her colleagues that "Boston's parking minimums are increasingly being weaponized to stall or prevent affordable housing developments that our residents badly need."

"I really don't think we should allow cynical ploys to extract concessions for private interests or to frustrate the critical public need for affordable housing," Bok added.

In the discussion that followed, Councilor Ricardo Arroyo said that "I think this is one of the worthiest goals we can aim for."

But Councilor Lydia Edwards expressed some hesitation.

"I absolutely want to prioritize housing over parking," said Edwards. "But I'm not going to ignore the elephant in the room that there are a lot of people in this city that aren't convinced of that, and absolutely think that parking should be prioritized."

Councilor Liz Breadon of Allston also sounded a skeptical note, saying that parking "is a complex issue."

Councilor Michael Flaherty, who jokingly referenced his "five-car" nickname, was the most outspoken against the proposal.

"People need to get to work, and having a parking space in their building is vital to being able to take care of their family and to earn an income to sustain themselves," insisted Flaherty.

Councilor Bok responded to her colleagues' hesitation with a forceful reminder that, while finding a parking spot can be a minor nuisance, finding affordable housing is a much more serious problem for tens of thousands of people in the Boston region.

"There are two crises that we are nowhere close to meeting at the pace that we need to meet them. One of them is affordable housing, and one of them is the climate crisis. And both of them require us having community conversations faster about how we move away from an addiction to cars," said Bok.

Following the discussion, Councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Frank Baker, Liz Breadon, Julia Mejia, Annissa Essaibi George, and Andrea Campbell agreed to add their names to the petition as co-sponsors, and Council referred the item to the Committee on Government Operations.

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