Town Could Use Parking as Leverage in Future Development of Red Cab Site
Permit provision is latest tool considered in effort to ward off big buildings on controversial site.
Town officials are looking to a little-used permitting tool in their ongoing effort to ward off oversized development on Route 9's controversial Red Cab site.
A study commitee looking into the site has suggested the town could use new special permit provisions to encourage future developers seek a smaller-looking building at 111 Boylston St., the site of the former Red Cab garage. Plans for a four-story office building on the site were scuttled last spring and temporary zoning is set to expire late this summer.
Using the permitting provisions, the town could offer concessions to a developer in exchange for more favorable design considerations on the site at 111 Boylston St. For example, members said, the town could reduce parking requirements if a developer agreed to a building that didn’t cast massive shadows along neighboring White Place.
“The focus has really been, how do we reduce the impact on White Place?” said Selectman Richard Benka, chairman of the Davis Path Special District Zoning Study Committee.
The town approved a controversial four-story medical-office building on the site several years ago, but developer Leggat McCall withdrew its plans last March. Later that year, Town Meeting temporarily rezoned the Red Cab parcel to "G-1.0," which would limit any building on the site to a height of 40 feet and a "floor-area ratio"— a building’s total square footage divided by the size of its lot—of 1.0.
But that rezoning expires in August, and without further action, the site will revert to "G-2.0" zoning, which allows buildings to be taller and twice as dense than in G-1.0 zones.
Parking rules bring opportunities
The study committee’s goal is to present a permanent solution to the town. Although zoning will be part of that, committee members and neighbors spent most of last night’s community forum discussing special permit provisions and other strategies.
These non-zoning opportunities arose when committee members found that the town’s zoning laws require more parking than most developments actually need. Reducing those parking requirements would give a developer more room on the site to build a lower, more visually appealing building, they said.
“The parking demands … impose very significant impacts on the physical configuration,” said Sergio Modigliani, an architect and member of the committee.
Modigliani also said the town should focus less on controlling the floor-area ratio—or FAR—of proposed buildings and more on controlling their overall dimensions. For example, he compared two 60-foot-tall buildings, one with five 12-foot floors and another with six 10-foot floors.
“The FAR’s going to be bigger in the second case, but the bulk of the building’s going to be the same,” he said.
“Our existing zoning is based on FAR, the mass of the building, and it’s based on setbacks, so it basically allows a cube,” he said.
One solution to proposed for the Red Cab site is a building with a step-like design, with upper floors that only rise from the back. The study committee showed renderings of what such a building would look like at last night’s meeting.
With this design, the higher floors would be “hidden” to neighbors on White Place, and the shadows would not be as imposing, Benka said.
“What we’ve heard consistently is, ‘It’s not just the shadow impacts, it’s the visual impact,’” said Kara Brewton, the town’s economic development director.
To get this kind of building constructed, the town would have to implement zoning that regulates a building’s height based on its setbacks, Brewton said. Brookline has not done that in its zoning laws before, but other communities have, Benka said.
Gordon Bennett, a Davis Path resident, said the study committee’s presentation helped him understand the history of the site and the challenges facing the town. But he wasn’t optimistic that any large building would be attractive to neighbors.
“No matter what you do, you can not make it look good,” he said.