As the Wu administration contemplates incentives for real estate projects that emphasize affordability, equity, and climate resiliency, they’re starting by asking developers to put on paper what they’re already doing along those lines.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency last week sent questionnaires to 189 development firms and 67 community organizations asking for specifics on how their real estate projects would contribute to the city’s planning goals. The 256 developers and community groups either have projects currently undergoing development review or have had projects recently approved by the BPDA board, and their responses will be used to develop a scorecard that the Wu administration hopes will streamline development review in the future.
“This challenge is the first step in a comprehensive process to ensure that development in Boston prioritizes resilience, affordability, and equity from start to finish,” said BPDA Director Arthur Jemison in a statement. “We look forward to working with the development and advocacy communities on this to ensure our city’s built environment is meeting the needs of Bostonians.”
The move comes as the Wu administration has begun taking steps to draw the BPDA into City Hall, with the City Council earlier this month passing a home-rule petition that would formally dissolve the legal structures behind the agency and draw down urban renewal powers. A steering committee is also examining the BPDA’s Article 80 process, which guides BPDA and community review of most large development projects.
The voluntary questionnaires have six open-ended questions focusing on context, resilience, affordability, equity, and innovation, with additional space to spell out specific metrics and quantifiable outcomes. The forms are largely identical, but for their final questions, where community groups are asked about what aspects should be prioritized to “exceed” resiliency, affordability, and equity standards, and where developers are asked about incentives that could prompt greater investment in resilience, affordability, and equity practices.
“If the BPDA made changes to the Article 80 process — or made available other forms of financial or process incentives — in order to incentivize projects or plans that exceed certain RAE standards, what improvements would be most incentivizing to your project or plan?” the developer questionnaire reads.
Amid Boston’s recent building boom, incentives for developers to build have been rare. The city has instead focused on boosting fees commercial and residential developments pay toward affordable housing and workforce development programs, and urging higher ratios of affordable housing or bigger investment in climate resiliency in certain projects or neighborhoods. But some developers have said incentives are necessary to pursue efforts that may not pencil out economically, such as converting office spaces into housing.
Tamara Small, CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, said in a statement that the commercial real estate industry group was encouraged by the city’s outreach.
“The process provides an opportunity for developers to communicate how their projects are improving the community by addressing climate resiliency, affordability, and equity,” Small said. “Recognizing that every project is unique, NAIOP will be advocating for a predictable and clear process that allows for flexibility to ensure the process benefits everyone — residents, businesses, and policymakers.”
The BPDA is asking for questionnaires to be submitted by April 28, though there’s some flexibility. The agency will compile the responses and present them for public input this summer, then fully develop a scorecard that can be implemented by year-end.