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BSA News

Jul 13, 2023

BPDA Recommends Streamlining BCDC Design Review Processes

Supko DSCF0777 1000px

Photo by Keith Supko.

Shifting voting procedures to a simple majority, adding two nonvoting administrative roles, and expanding expertise on the commission are among the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC) procedural changes that the Boston Planning and Development Authority (BPDA) is proposing to the Boston Zoning Commission this summer.

These suggested changes are the output of an Article 28 review process that the BPDA launched last winter to obtain input on how effectively the BCDC’s processes are meeting the needs of communities, architects, developers, and the city overall. Article 28 is designed to provide clear and predictable requirements for the review of development projects that affect the public realm. The analysis included an internal review and three public workshops that yielded recommendations for: speeding up processes, which currently can result in delays and cost increases; being more responsive to city and community goals, including diversity, equity, inclusion and affordability; and increasing transparency and streamlining processes.

“The amendments are meant to modernize Article 28 in light of planning focused on affordability, resilience, and equity,” says Diana Fernandez Bibeau, PLA, ASLA, deputy chief of urban design at the BPDA. “We hope to innovate around resilience and spatialize the term ‘equity’ for the communities that we serve.”

Among the BPDA’s recommendations are:

  • Adding two nonvoting administrative roles to the commission (the director of planning and deputy chief of urban design) who can help by providing their understanding of proposed designs and enhancing continuity across meetings.
  • Expanding expertise on the commission, including those with knowledge of architecture, urban planning, engineering, climate resilience, arts, and historic preservation.
  • Enabling the mayor to appoint a youth member to the commission to engage youth in the design and development of the city.
  • Amending the terms of office so that commissioners serve a term of three years with no members serving more than two consecutive terms to ensure fresh perspectives and diversity of input.
  • Expanding the definition of “projects of special significance” to include any project of greater than one acre, which will help with planning on a civic scale and responding to resiliency standards.
  • Change Advisory Vote of Recommendation procedure to a simple majority of non-recused members. This will help streamline the process, as it can be difficult to achieve a forum of six non-recused members (the current requirement).
  • Codifying many of the processes the BPDA practices, such as requiring staff to maintain meeting records.
  • Simplifying language in the code to make it easier to understand.

“Architects, developers, and others in the AEC community will see more expediency and greater alignment with the BPDA design functions as a result of these proposed changes, “ says Fernandez Bibeau. “They will be able to advance projects more quickly and move towards implementation.”

The BSA has submitted a letter of support for these proposed changes to the BPDA. If the Boston Zoning Commission approves these changes to Article 28, they will go into effect this summer.

Please reach out to Jenny Effron, policy director at the BSA, at [email protected] if you have any questions on the Article 28 review process.