Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Wednesday that he planned to spur construction of moderately priced housing on underused land along subway lines in South Boston and Jamaica Plain by allowing developers to build larger buildings with fewer parking spaces.
In a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Walsh said sections near the MBTA’s Red and Orange lines would be designated as transit-oriented growth zones. A Boston Redevelopment Authority task force will examine the two desolate urban stretches and recommend zoning changes to encourage development.
Walsh offered few specifics about his plan, but said it was needed to lower rents, spur retail investment, and “breathe new life into underdeveloped streets.” The mayor has targeted Dorchester Avenue in South Boston between Andrew Square and Broadway, and the Orange Line in Jamaica Plain between Forest Hills and Jackson Square.
“The T stops in these great neighborhoods should be embedded in thriving, healthy, walkable communities,” Walsh said. “More zones will come. When other neighborhoods see the kind of vibrancy that smart density produces, the conversation about new housing across our city will change for the better.”
Transit-oriented growth aims to reduce prices by allowing more density. The Walsh administration has identified land near transit hubs across the city that could be used to create new neighborhoods with thousands of units of housing. The land is on the edges of existing residential areas and much of it is vacant, owned by the state, or once was used by light industry.
Encouraging construction would lower rents and provide other significant benefits, said Walsh’s housing chief, Sheila Dillon. “With the right density, we are confident that neighborhood amenities will follow, such as restaurants and bakeries and retail,” Dillon said. “We’re not just building housing. We’re building communities.”
Creating density near public transportation can reduce construction costs and rents, increase opportunities for retail, and eliminate the need for cars, said Richard Taylor, director of the Center for Real Estate at Suffolk University.
But proposals with limited parking can be a flashpoint in urban areas already strained by too many cars and too few places to park them.
“It is going to be very important to do a significant amount of outreach to neighborhoods in preparation for density discussions,” Taylor said. “Historically, many residents have reacted cautiously to the issues of density and the absence of parking, and we all understand why.”
If Boston wants to create more affordable housing, it must take deliberate steps, said Gregory Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and a member of Walsh’s transition team.
“I don’t know how to do it, other than with less parking, to meet those price points to make these deals work so people can actually rent them,” Vasil said.
In Walsh’s speech to several hundred business leaders at the Westin Copley Place Hotel, the mayor offered an upbeat assessment of his first 11 months in office, ticking off several statistics that he said showed the impact of his administration.
“We hit the ground running, and we didn’t let up,” Walsh said. “We set new standards in development, education, public safety, housing, public health, and infrastructure — the building blocks of our great city.”
Walsh announced that Brian Golden will become permanent director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The mayor also announced that his administration has proposed a tax break to keep the headquarters of cloud computing company LogMeIn in Boston.
When Walsh took office, he vowed not to micromanage development, but Wednesday he challenged architects to come up with bold designs. Walsh said after the speech that some of the architecture “could be better” in Boston’s booming Seaport. He took aim at square buildings, expressed his dislike for concrete cinder block, and said “brick is beautiful.”
“When you’re . . . coming into Boston Harbor, I think that the first thing you see shouldn’t be a building that’s a square building,” Walsh said. “It should be something that’s special. I think there’s an opportunity for us to do some unique designs down on the waterfront.”
In his speech, Walsh mentioned education, but did not address the search for a schools superintendent, which he has repeatedly described as his most important decision as mayor. Walsh originally vowed to name a superintendent by September, but the city extended the search, which the mayor said increased the pool of applicants from roughly 40 to 60.
“Right now, the timeline is somewhere in early to mid-February we will have a decision,” Walsh told reporters.