There was one significant height revision on Tuesday night when the Board of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approved the guidelines created through the Greenway District Planning Study. Instead of the previously presented height range of up to 85 feet high for the Fulton St. parking lot (Parcel 11B), the BRA ceded to the public uproar to maintain the neighborhood tradition of 55 feet as the maximum height. The height at this particular parcel was the most often mentioned comment at a July 19th neighborhood meeting with the BRA. The North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association, along with many others, advocated for this change from when the draft guidelines were originally presented. (Read NEWRA’s letter (pdf).) Most recently, City Councilor Sal LaMattina went on the record to keep the 55 feet, in-line with current zoning.
While the North End continues to fight for its 55 feet height limit, the rest of the guidelines contain substantially greater density throughout the length of the Greenway. “Final height recommendations range from buildings between 175-200 feet along the waterfront to buildings ranging as tall as 400-600 feet on the city side of the Greenway,” according to the BRA’s blog, posted by “Marketing.” (Ed: why does a city agency need a marketing group?).
Most notably, the Government Center Garage parcels include towers up to 600 feet high, mostly on the Beacon Hill side toward the John F. Kennedy building. Comments were made at several of the public meetings questioning the inclusion of the Government Center Garage sites west of Congress Street as a relevant part of the Greenway guidelines. The other “tower” location is the Richardson block near the Financial District.
Perhaps just as interesting is where towers do not appear in the guidelines: the Harbor Garage and the Hook Lobster parcels. The BRA seemed to use the Greenway strip as a dividing line for height with lower buildings on the waterfront side.
Most of the ink spilled in the press on the BRA’s guidelines has related to the Harbor Garage where Don Chiofaro has proposed 625’ high towers. The guidelines approved by the BRA Board would move the current zoning from 155’ to only 200’ high. Casey Ross at the Boston Globe pens that Chiofaro is looking for a compromise.
“This is not a personal situation between me and the mayor,’’ Chiofaro said. “I like the mayor and have great respect for him. We should not be adversaries, because I think we have the same objective, to replace the garage.’’ A spokeswoman for Menino said City Hall is “open to a new proposal as long as it’s consistent with the Greenway guidelines’’ and other zoning requirements.
It doesn’t take a math genius to see there is a big difference between 200’ in the Greenway guidelines and the 625’ height proposed by Chiofaro. The developer is expected to propose something in the 400’ range in the coming weeks, which is roughly the same height as the neighboring Harbor Towers. As reported by Thomas Grillo of the Boston Herald, Chiofaro is courting public support for a larger development than allowed under the guidelines.
“In a survey of 300 voters in Boston, 51 percent of respondents voiced support for the project while 33 percent were opposed. The 51 percent does not appear to include the neighbors. “Thomas Palmer, spokesman for some Harbor Towers residents, called the poll “flawed, biased, meaningless and misleading.”
Aside from individual development parcels, the next question is what happens with the BRA’s guidelines. Initially, the agency will use them for its own internal review process but longer term the BRA wants to make them into zoning law. According to their blog, “The guidelines will be implemented in conjunction with the BRA’s development review process, until such time that a set of zoning controls can be enacted. The next step to codifying these guidelines will be to develop zoning controls, which will be presented to the BRA Board at a later date.”