BRA tightens PDA guidelines

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) last month tightened its rules for granting Planned Development Areas—zoning relief for large-scale commercial projects—which has been controversial in the Longwood Medical Area.

A PDA offers blanket zoning approval to large commercial developments that may be different in scale or use from surrounding properties. In exchange, the owner must submit a long-range development plan that is renewed or updated regularly.

According to BRA Director of Communications Nick Martin, the new guidelines emphasize that PDAs are not for every large project. Instead, they are aimed at complex, mixed-use projects that need significant zoning relief and offer significant mitigation and community benefits.

“The new guidelines tighten up the old policy in an effort to maintain the integrity and original intent of PDAs,” he told the Gazette. “We’re doing this by strengthening the criteria for how and when PDAs are granted.”

A PDA for a Joslin Diabetes Center expansion 10 years ago in the LMA drew controversy when a housing component was removed from long-range plans. More recently, there have been confusions on whether a PDA or a related mechanism for colleges, called an Institutional Master Plan, should apply to properties that combine college and commercial uses, such as the new Northeastern University dorm at the YMCA’s Huntington Avenue site.

The new PDA guidelines were passed unanimously by the BRA board of directors on Aug. 14 and went into effect immediately, Martin said.

In another reform, the BRA board also decided to require developers of BRA-reviewed projects to submit more thorough and timely financial disclosure statements.

A loophole in the current policy makes it possible for a project to gain approval without the BRA knowing of all of project investors or potential conflicts of interest.

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