After Five Years, Re-Zoning Effort Ready for Prime Time

A committee of Dorchester activists that has spent countless hours over the last five years scrutinizing the neighborhood's zoning codes will present the fruits of its labor at two community meetings next week. Identical meetings will be held on two consecutive nights at Florian Hall (Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 6:30 p.m.) and the Great Hall in Codman Square (Wed., Jan. 9, 6:30 p.m.).

The group, known as the Planning and Zoning Advisory Committee or PZAC, has been supervised by the Boston Redevelopment Authority as part of a citywide rezoning effort that dates back to the mid-1980s. Dorchester is the last Boston neighborhood to be re-zoned, a fact that some say has been responsible for frequent disputes over development issues. The neighborhood's current zoning codes date back to the 1950s. Much has changed since then, a fact that BRA coordinator Hugues Monestine says is reflected in the draft rezoning maps that will be on display next week.

"We have been working on this since 1997," says Monestine. "We created an advisory committee of residents and businesses to review the land use patterns of all of Dorchester and to propose new zoning.

"At this time, we're at the point where we think we've covered quite a bit and we think we can go and present it to the community."

Among the proposed changes will be a more specific detailing of the types of housing found on specific streets. Monestine says special attention has been given to streets that are home to houses that have special architectural significance.

"Properties that are significant or entire blocks with certain types of houses with historic significance will be preserved and protected," he says. "If someone were to change the facade of a building with architectural significance, that project would have to undergo specific review by the BRA and the Landmarks Commission to make sure the features are preserved."

Monestine issued a rough draft of the newly drawn maps two months ago and says he received plenty of feedback- both pro and con- from residents. He's hoping that the meetings next week will provoke the same sort of reactions.

One noticeable omission from the new BRA maps are any mention of the terms "North" and "South" Dorchester, controversial racial code words that date back to the 1960s. Monestine says that at the very first meeting of the PZAC committee in 1997, members insisted that the terminology be "avoided at all costs."

"We don't like the idea of calling the neighborhood North and South. We are going to put whole map in front of you and call it Dorchester. We want it to be open to everyone," Monestine said.

Copies of the draft zoning plan are available for review at neighborhood library branches and at the Bowdoin Street Health Center and Codman Square NDC. Call Hugues Monestine at 617-918-4320 for more information.