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Brookline is a key battleground in state’s new housing law

A view of housing on Harvard Street in Brookline.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Town needs flexibility and time to get the details right on Harvard St. development

Re “With new law, trouble brewing in Brookline” (Page A1, Feb. 23): There is no “brick wall of opposition” to development in Brookline. Between 2015 and 2020 Brookline permitted more than 1,130 housing units, according to the town planning department. Our 2020 population of 63,191 is a historic high, 7.6 percent over 2010. The Green Line service area in Brookline is one of the densest in Greater Boston, with about 18,000 people per square mile, according to my calculations. This same area has an estimated 22,000 housing units, 75 percent of which are in multifamily buildings of three units or more, three times the MBTA Communities law’s target of 25 percent.


There is no group advocating for “the status quo” either. In response to divisive debates and distress about bad development outcomes, Brookline by Design formed to advocate for an informed, community-driven planning and zoning reform process, which is just beginning. Our town leaders must urge the state to recognize, not impede, our local efforts.

Brookline by Design is not concerned about the “variation” in building heights under the proposal to rezone Harvard Street. Quite the opposite, it’s the proposal’s uniformity on the entire corridor that is a problem.

The MBTA Communities law’s anti-urban guidelines threaten our beloved local businesses and existing moderately priced housing. Moreover, to get the Harvard Street proposal right, we need the flexibility and time to make smart decisions the community believes in. Only then will zoning reform pass at Town Meeting.

Linda Olson Pehlke


The writer, chair and cofounder of Brookline by Design, holds a master’s degree in urban planning. She is a Town Meeting member and chair of the town’s Planning Process Study Committee.

Town is pricing people out, and group’s objections block path to more affordable options

Reporter Andrew Brinker did a great job highlighting the development challenges in Brookline (“With new law, trouble brewing in Brookline”). In 28 years as a Brookline resident, I’ve observed many roadblocks that have impeded new development in town.


The innocuous-sounding group Brookline by Design asserts that its members are interested in “thoughtful” development, but that amounts to excluding most development. BBD members have objected to a number of projects that make use of vacant or underutilized areas, such as accessory dwelling units and expansion of single-family footprints to accommodate two or more units. Or they have attempted to establish often-dubious historic districts that have the same controlling effect on development. Various objections include reduction of “light” and destroying the “character” of the neighborhood.

Brookline clearly needs additional low-income housing, not to mention more development that would enable even middle-class residents, such as our own kids, to find affordable alternatives in town. I’ve experienced this personally: Both of my daughters have thriving careers and yet one moved to New Hampshire and the other moved to a tiny space in a nearby Boston-area community.

It seems clear that many well-meaning residents need to adjust their perspective about infill development in our urban area.

Fred Muehter