Boston’s Planning-Led Rezoning: New Skyline Districts

Boston is continuing its commitment to planning-led rezoning with the recent release by the Boston Planning and Development Agency ("BPDA") of a draft zoning text amendment and zoning map to implement the PLAN: Downtown planning study adopted in December 2023. This rezoning would create new "Skyline Districts" for Downtown Boston, supporting high-density residential and commercial uses while limiting the scale of development in historic areas. 

The proposed Skyline Districts would replace both the Midtown Cultural District and the B-10 Subdistrict of the Boston Proper Zoning District. Portions of adjacent zoning districts, including the Government Center/Markets Zoning District and the South Station Economic Development Area, would also be moved into the new Skyline Districts.

The draft proposes two types of Skyline Districts:

  • SKY—this subdistrict includes a wide range of allowed and conditional uses; no building height limit except for those imposed by state shadow laws (and, though not mentioned in the draft zoning, Federal Aviation Administration requirements); façade stepback and floor plate reduction requirements for some towers; and no floor area ratio cap.
  • SKY-LOW—this subdistrict includes somewhat stricter use regulations; a building height limit up to the lesser of 180’ or the limits of state shadow laws; and no floor area ratio cap. A historic overlay denoted SKY-LOW-D would restrict building height to the lesser of 155' or the limits of state shadow laws, and floor plates to 20k sf. The draft zoning map accompanying the draft zoning text amendment shows the entirety of the SKY-LOW subdistrict within this overlay.

Skyline Districts incorporate several concepts from the BPDA's recently approved Squares + Streets zoning templates, including requirements for ground floor active uses and outdoor amenity spaces. Zoning relief via Planned Development Area approval would be prohibited within the Skyline Districts. The BPDA has indicated that the SKY-LOW subdistrict could be adapted in future rezonings to activity nodes outside Downtown Boston.

The BPDA is accepting public comments on the proposed Skyline Districts through June 4, 2024, targeting BPDA Board approval in July 2024. 

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Matthew Kiefer Matthew Kiefer

Matthew Kiefer is a real estate development and land use lawyer who helps for-profit and not-for-profit clients obtain site control and development approvals from public agencies for complex urban projects.

Boston - United States

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