While New England is known for its quaint towns and historical appeal, civic leaders are being challenged to strike a delicate balance between maintaining historical charm and meeting the needs of a region facing significant growth. Metro Boston is expected to create 800,000 new workers by 2030, forming nearly 500,000 new working households. Those with the financial means will seek a home in Greater Boston. Many more will be forced to move outside the metro area. Communities bracing for an influx of new residents are facing pressure to accommodate growth without sacrificing their identity.
For the last several years, ULI Boston/New England has tapped the expertise of its members to help communities tackle these kinds of challenges. Through its Technical Assistance Program (TAP), ULI provides cities and towns across New England expertise and tools to address land use issues. For the public sector, TAPs represents a rare opportunity to engage a diverse group of private sector professionals.
TAP panels spend a day meeting with civic, business and community leaders to learn how the town works and help identify opportunities for improvement. The panels are comprised of real estate developers, designers, engineers, investors and representatives who volunteer their time. Together with a ULI representative, the panels help devise master plans that are designed to achieve a better sense of place, a broader tax base, and stronger financial structuring.
In 2013, the town of Dedham sought input on how to energize development in Dedham Square. ULI convened a TAP panel to examine how the town could attract young professionals and empty nesters to its residential mix. While many stakeholders familiar with Dedham’s residential real estate market suggested that demand exists for such larger units, both rental and ownership, the TAP panel recommended the town change the zoning to allow condominiums and two-bedroom units in the square and elsewhere. The theory was that increasing the size of allowable units would attract a greater mix of residents that could support the local businesses and contribute to the vibrancy of the Square. The TAP panel also suggested that the town reconsider its decision to relocate all of the Town Hall functions out of the city center. Panelists had experience with towns that regretted their decision to relocate their municipal services. They also saw it as a missed opportunity to reactivate town center.
Upon the completion of the TAP, Dedham took the recommendations under advisement, ultimately choosing to alter the zoning regulations and keep city services in the downtown. Not long after, Supreme Development submitted a plan to build a mixed-use project of 60 one-bedroom apartments and commercial space. The project is slated for occupancy later this year.
With more than 1,100 members across all commercial real estate disciplines and a mission to share global best practices and promote effective relationships among business, government, and community stakeholders, ULI occupies a unique position in New England’s real estate ecosystem. People join ULI because they want to share their knowledge and help improve the way land is utilized. Through technical Assistance Panels, ULI is able to impact communities at the local level and contribute to the smart growth of a region. Over the coming months and years, more local communities will seek the input of a TAP to assist with placemaking in an ever-changing commercial real estate market. Are you interested in using your professional skills in a TAP? Do you know a community that could benefit from one? We want to hear from you.
by Manikka Bowman, Director of Policy, ULI Boston/New England