Dante Ramos’s Opinion column, “How Boston frustrates its own housing goals,” raises important questions about growth in Boston. Yet he mischaracterizes proposed development adjacent to Allandale Woods and fails to address the kind of limits that are sensible despite the need for housing.
Ramos notes that the visual impact of proposed housing would be similar to a nearby senior center. We disagree. The senior center, as well as the few other institutional-scale neighbors, put nearly half of their property bordering Allandale Woods into conservation easement, effectively enlarging the woods and minimizing impact.
The developer in this case proposes to leave no buffer. Rather than building 10 units, as she could by right, she seeks variance to build 20 units, which would be as large as four and a half stories. These structures, on an upland slope, would be visible throughout the eastern third of Allandale Woods.
What’s more, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department has stated that Allandale Woods is the “most ecologically significant natural area” in the city and that the proposed development is adjacent to one of the most sensitive sites in the woods, which features wet meadows, springs, and streams that flow into a rare vernal pool. The department notes that the hydrology and vegetation of the proposed development site are critical to the park’s habitat of numerous mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. The proposed development is also adjacent to lands designated by the city archeologist as areas of high importance for both native and historic cultural deposits.
In theory, a request for variance should be based on hardship. What hardship justifies intensifying development beyond that which could be achieved by right, when it puts a rare and sensitive public asset at risk? If the city is willing to prioritize housing for millionaires that diminishes the quality of public open space, deviates from the mayor’s plan for development near public transportation, and overrides neighborhood zoning agreements, that is not what a world-class city deserves.
The writer is a cofounder of Friends of Allandale Woods.