Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is signalling support for developers’ vision to reawaken the Bulfinch Triangle neighborhood by encouraging taller buildings and multifamily housing.
Commercial property owners led by Newton-based The RMR Group are seeking to lift the neighborhood’s 100-foot height limit and make it easier to build multifamily housing steps from the MBTA’s Haymarket and North Stations. The initiative was first reported by the Boston Business Journal.
“Where there is the opportunity to be close to transit, to be in a part of the city that is growing, I think it makes a ton of sense to try to do what we can to boost housing production and make sure we are providing that vitality,” Wu told Banker & Tradesman on Monday.
RMR manages an office REIT, Office Properties Income Trust, that owns three properties spanning a 0.7-acre site at the corner of Causeway and North Washington streets.
The portfolio includes 251 Causeway St., a 143,000-square-foot office building that’s been vacant since a group of Massachusetts state agencies’ leases expired in June, said Jesse Abair, vice president of development for RMR.
In mid-2022, RMR began sounding out officials about redeveloping the site as a 700-foot skyscraper. The firm never filed any formal application, but RMR subsequently hired Brookline-based land-use consultants Speck & Assoc. to design some “high-level planning concepts to catalyze the conversation” about the entire neighborhood’s future, Abair said.
The neighborhood at the northern gateway to downtown Boston has been untouched by the type of large-scale developments that transformed nearby North Station and Government Center of the past decade. Most of the buildings contain class B office space on the upper floors and ground-floor tenants such as sports bars that cater to TD Garden patrons.
“Certainly the zoning is a constraint when it comes to meaningful investment in this triangle,” Abair said. “There are a lot of surface parking lots and a lot of vacant storefronts and vacancies with respect to the upper floor office space.”
The neighborhood’s only major housing development in the past decade, Trinity Financial’s 320-unit One Canal apartment building, was built on a former Central Artery parcel subject to a separate zoning process.
This month, Wu announced the first citywide rezoning process since the 1960s. The proposal, subject to Boston Planning & Development Agency and Zoning Commission approval, would expand as-of-right approvals for residential projects, and rezone squares and transit hubs for higher-density housing.
The initial neighborhoods targeted by the “Squares and Streets” planning process have not been announced, although the BPDA has scheduled informational sessions this month in Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, South Boston and South End.
Wu has set a goal of a six- to nine-month timetable for the neighborhood planning studies, in contrast to the roughly three-year process of past studies.
“The plan is to start with phase one and probably three or four in the first batch, and speed up as we go and make sure that we’re learning from that, and be able to do more neighborhoods at once as we continue to move about the city,” Wu said following an opening ceremony for the Raffles Boston hotel and condominium tower in Back Bay.
If included in a planning study, the new zoning rules would be subject to approval by the BDPA board and the Boston Zoning Commission.
“As we started engaging with the BPDA [about the 251 Causeway redevelopment], they have made it clear, as has Mayor Wu, that development should be planning-led as opposed to more reactive,” Abair said. “So we’ve all stepped back as stakeholders to think more holistically about the plan for the Bulfinch Triangle.”