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New Rule Lets Brookline Pick More of Its Own Kind

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Freaked out by booming residential development, activists and pols from across the spectrum rejoiced in Tuesday night's Town Meeting vote to create Brookline's first Neighborhood Conservation District. What is it, exactly? Well, it's not quite a historic district, which can pack a nanny-state wallop when even modest development proposals hit the drawing boards, but it carries the sort of regulatory bite a tony community bordering Boston might like. Per The Globe's Andreae Downs:

[T] Neighborhood Conservation District allows the community to determine the character of an area—taking into account the style of buildings, the size and appearance of open lots and parks and more. It cannot be used to regulate replacement windows or doors, temporary structures, regular maintenance, gutters, and removal or replacement of storm-damaged plants or buildings, but it can be applied to neighborhoods that would not qualify as “historic.”
The move came because the town is basically running out of space for fresh housing, but that has not ebbed the flow of proposals for such. Take Hancock Village (please—kidding!). Chestnut Hill Realty wanted to build 400 apartments there. The town had other ideas, and, after voting in conservation districts, slapped the very first one on Hancock Village. Nevertheless:

[T]he district “will not stop development in Hancock Village,” [an attorney for the company] said. Joe Geller, former selectman and a landscape architect working as a consultant for Chestnut Hill Realty, argued that conservation districts could be applied arbitrarily and would invite the “design police” to regulate more of Brookline homeowners’ lives. Which, to us, seems the point entirely. The new rule appears to specifically target developments with affordable-housing components, which can make use of commonwealth muscle to get around local restrictions (a supporter of the conservation designation, in fact, called the Hancock Village plans, which could include affordable housing, "insanely inappropriate.") Brookline is easily one of the Hub's priciest enclaves. Shall we connect the dots? Let us know.

· Brookline Town Meeting Makes Hancock the Town's First Neighborhood Conservation District [Globe]