The City Plan Commission unanimously approved eco-friendly zoning updates that would enable 101 College St.‘s developer to build big.
Commissioners took that vote during the local land-use authority’s latest regular monthly meeting.
As City Hall remains indefinitely closed to the public because of the state of emergency around Covid-19, the six-and-a-half hour marathon meeting this past Wednesday night took place online via the Zoom teleconferencing app.
Commissioners voted unanimously in support of recommending that the Board of Alders adopt the City Plan Department’s recently proposed updates to the BD-3 Central Business / Mixed Use district.
The proposed zoning law change now advances to the aldermanic Legislation Committee for a public hearing next Thursday evening, to be followed by a full Board of Alders vote, likely in June.
City Plan Director Aïcha Woods (pictured) and Deputy Director of Zoning Jenna Montesano explained Wednesday night that the zoning code updates would apply only to commercial developments in the bioscience sector-focused zone that includes a portion of the Rt. 34 corridor on the Hill/Downtown border.
The proposed changes would bump up the maximum Floor-Area Ratio (FAR) for eligible as-of-right developments from 6 to 8. FAR refers to the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the lot on which the building sits. The higher the allowable FAR, the larger a building can be.
“The bigger building is not as of right,” Montesano (pictured) continued. “You either have to give back to the community through excellent design of public spaces that are available to everybody, or green building standards, or both.”
That is, in order for a developer to build bigger, they have to create a new privately-owned public space according to design standards laid out in the proposed zoning change, or they have to include environmentally sustainable features like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings, on-site renewable energy generation, ecoroofs, and green stormwater infrastructure.
Click here to read the proposed zoning update in full.
“Lab buildings typically have a larger footprint than other buildings,” Woods said. “We were finding that FAR 6 is really deficient to get the lab buildings to the size they want to be at.” These proposed changes would allow for larger commercial developments in BD-3 zones so long as the builder follows the included environmental construction standards.
While the zoning update if approved would apply to every eligible commercial project in the BD-3 zone, these proposed land-use regulation changes would redound most immediately to the benefit of one project in particular: Winstanley Enterprises’ planned new 500,000 square-foot bioscience lab and office tower at 101 College St.
That latter project also received a unanimous vote of recommended approval from the commission Wednesday night.
That vote came in regards to the commission’s recommendation that the Board of Alders approve the city’s proposed Development and Land Disposition Agreement (DLDA) for the project.
The DLDA will next be the subject of a May 27 aldermanic Community Development Committee public hearing, to be followed by a full board vote in June.
The proposed zoning update and planned new development are so interconnected that commissioners repeatedly had to ask city staff to separate out the two Wednesday night, as the former is a law change that applies generally and comprehensively to an entire district, and the latter is a project-specific agreement that applies only to 101 College.
Woods and Montesano and city Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli (pictured) explained that the details of the environmental and public space incentives included in the proposed zoning change emerged from research done for the commercial corridors rezoning project as well as research into privately owned public space zoning laws in New York City, among other places.
“As we get denser and as we grow, we have to take into consideration having outdoor space,” Woods said about the public plaza standards.
Will these zoning changes foster broader economic development in the BD-3 district and in the city more broadly? asked Westville Alder and City Plan Commissioner Adam Marchand (pictured).
“No one building solves anything,” Piscitelli replied. “You have to have a strong district, a strong downtown.” These proposed zoning changes would contribute to such broader economic health by allowing for the BD-3 zone to blossom into a multi-building bioscience “campus” consisting of not just 101 College, but also 100 College, 300 George St., and other future developments.
When it came time for the commissioners to shift their attention from the proposed zoning update to the 101 College DLDA, Carter Winstanley (pictured), the Massachusetts-based developer of the project, pitched the building as providing much-needed short-term and long-term boosts to the city’s economy.
His presentation followed up on a similar pitch he made Tuesday night to the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team, earlier Wednesday night to the Hill South Community Management Team, and during past presentations to the Development Commission and the Hill North Community Management Team.
He said the project should create 1,000 temporary construction jobs “immediately on the heels of this pandemic.” Winstanley will also contribute $400,000 to a “Together We Grow” community benefits fund. The project will include a privately owned, publicly accessible plaza to be located in a space where Winstanley originally intended to build a 700-car garage before the city talked him into relying on publicly-owned downtown parking garages instead. And it will remain taxable for 30 years, the duration of the DLDA, even if a nonprofit ultimately takes over the building.
“I’m really impressed by all the pieces of this agreement and all the partnerships,” said Commission Alternate Elias Estabrook. “I’m hoping that we can see all the benefits come to fruition for all the parties involved.”