A proposed zoning amendment that targets White Stadium is drawing concern from several activists and organizations as a related plan to re-purpose the city facility for use by a professional soccer team continues to work its way through the BPDA review process.
The zoning change is on next Wednesday’s Zoning Commission agenda and would be implemented if approved. Opponents say it’s happening too fast, with a draft released on Dec. 18, a lone meeting on Dec. 19, and a comment period that ended on Jan. 8.
Since then, a series of contentious BPDA meetings unfolded in mid-January revealing significant resident opposition to the plan for a private entity to lease the stadium for use by a women’s pro soccer team.
The Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) called for a pause on any vote on a zoning change at Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board meeting on Jan. 18. The vote went ahead anyway and was passed 3-0, sending the matter to the Zoning Commission this month.
“It feels like the process is very fast and is being planned for construction as early as this winter – and that is very, very fast for a park,” said ENC Director Karen Mauney-Brodek. “The re-zoning is complicated for everyone to understand, and also why it’s required now.
“Perhaps it’s because of the plan for alcohol sales in the Stadium. But what I think is most important for folks thinking about the park and open space protections is how this zoning will affect the park and will it provide protections [under state law] that all our parks enjoy.”
“We want to make sure we’re protecting the public areas and the park. This is a lot and it’s complex and these important meetings played out over the holidays,” she continued.
The zoning amendment, as explained by Zoning Director Kathleen Onufer, would create a new Stadium and Amphitheatre Open Space subdistrict that would apply only to White Stadium (and East Boston Memorial Stadium) – taking it from the Open Space Recreation district, which is the zoning setting for the rest of Franklin Park.
“It also reflects planning recommendations that came out of the Franklin Park Action Plan that the Playstead, including the Stadium, are a major magnet for the park with a need for amenities and investments,” she noted.
For White Stadium, the change would allow for more investments, including accessory retail, restaurant serving alcohol, and entertainment uses only administered by a non-profit or government entity. At White Stadium, the boundaries would include the Stadium, the Grove, and the basketball/tennis court areas adjacent to the Stadium.
“The stadium open space district enables investment like the redevelopment of White Stadium,” said a spokesperson for the BPDA after the vote. “This is part of our commitment to ensuring zoning is in place for planned development, rather than relying on project-by-project exceptions, as a part of larger zoning reform.”
But some neighbors wonder why it was done now and separate from the White Stadium process.
“The re-zoning is very odd to us when you’re talking about White Stadium, because like the golf course and the zoo, it is part of Franklin Park and to take it out of the rules of Franklin Park itself divorces White Stadium from Franklin Park,” said Fatima Ali Salaam, chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC). “It places it outside of the park oversight…I understand the stated purpose; I just don’t see why this zoning in particular is needed for that purpose.”