Monday, November 15, 2010

CHS -- Allow parking on Boylston?

According to New England Development, one of the major constraints on the Chestnut Hill Square proposal was a prohibition against parking along Boylston St. (Rte. 9). It makes sense. Parking in the front setback (the area between the street and the front of the building) is a big no-no. It deadens the street and makes it pedestrian-unfriendly (if not hostile). Just about any big-box retail suffers from parking in the front setback.

But, keeping parking off of Boylston St. has some particular consequences for Chestnut Hill Square that may be worse than allowing it.

The intention of the restriction against parking in the front setback is to have new development engage the street and create a retail streetscape. But, for reasons good and bad, the developer was never going to put storefronts on Boylston St. And, because of the depth of the site, the developer understandably wants to have multiple retail fronts.

So, the retail in Chestnut Hill Square faces inward. And, Boylston St. gets the back of a building hard up against the street, with a narrow sidewalk (orange). There's a huge parking lot to navigate to get from the north retail building to the south buildings (green). And, there's a dangerous crossing to get from the north building to the west residential/retail building (red).

Since we're not going to get retail along Boylston St., maybe it's a good idea to relax the no-parking-in-the-front-setback restriction and reduce or eliminate the worst problems of this design.

If the north building and the sea of parking simply switched places, the design would get a whole lot better -- even with the blight of a parking lot along Boylston St.

The retail buildings would all be close together and the circulation area much more compact and easily navigated by foot (orange). The crossing between the north retail building and the west residential/retail building would be much safer (A). And, there would be an opportunity for wider, tree-lined sidewalk along Boylston St. (green).

Take it a step further and divide the north building in two.

Keep the idea of a mid-parking lot sidewalk (D), to connect from the sidewalk on Boylston St. to create a nice pedestrian spine through the development (B). Passage from the Milton's building to the east (C) and the residential/retail building (A) would be much safer.

Ironically, this configuration makes retail entrances along the north side of the building attractive to tenants (shown in orange along with retail along the gap), so there might end up being parking in the front setback after all. But, given the peculiarities of the site, it may be a compromise worth making.

We're not going to get the ideal development -- one that engages Boylston St. But, we can get a better development.

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