Neighborhood associations from the North End, Beacon Hill and West End have coordinated in a joint comment letter expressing their concerns about the “One Congress” Government Center Garage redevelopment project and how it will impact the downtown community.
Now that the public process has moved from the city’s “Article 80” review level at the Boston Redevelopment Authority to the State’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the review will focus on the environmental aspects of the proposal as filed by developer Thomas O’Brien’s HYM Investment Group LLC through an Expanded Environmental Notification Form (EENF).
The 2.3 million square foot large-scale development calls for 1.2 million square feet of office space, 755 apartments, 57 condominium units, 196 new hotel rooms, 82,500 SF of retail, 850 new bicycle spaces and 1,159 parking spaces from the remaining portion of the existing 11-story, 2,310 space parking garage. The phased project will cover 2 blocks with six primary buildings, ranging from 60 to 528 feet high.
While supporting some aspects of the project, such as housing, street activation and the opening up of Congress Street, the neighborhood groups are fearful about the lack of planning for not only the GCG redevelopment, but the cumulative impacts of the 10 major new developments in the immediate area.
We welcome a redevelopment that, if sensitively scaled and designed, improves and revitalizes the Project area and surrounding neighborhoods for the benefit of residents and visitors alike. We especially support a plan for bringing additional family residences and retail activity to the area, for opening up Congress Street, for improved pedestrian and vehicular movement through this part of downtown Boston, and for improvements to the MBTA Haymarket Station and bus terminal.
However, we are concerned that the Project as presently proposed – particularly the addition of almost one million square feet of office space – is out-of-scale with the surrounding urban environment and will generate additional traffic, public transportation and other infrastructure demands which cannot be accommodated by existing systems and are not addressed in any city or state plan.
The letter identifies specific environmental impacts, which they say were not previously addressed in the city’s review. The capacity of public infrastructure and utilities, especially water and sewer, are questioned including further overflow drainage to the Charles River Watershed and Boston Harbor. Although wind and shadow effects are included in the EENF, the groups question the proponent’s proposal not to further “change building heights, but to mitigate the wind and shadow impacts through detailed building design.”
Traffic congestion, parking and transportation issues were a regular concern identified during the BRA’s public meetings, but the neighborhood groups are insisting on a comprehensive traffic study that will incorporate the combined developments planned for the North Station area rather than data from a “4 or 5 year old transportation study” cited in the EENF.
With the Project’s plan to narrow streets, reduce traffic lanes, reconfigure traffic patters, and attract more vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians to the Project area so close to the I-93 on-ramp and off-ramp, we expect that substantial traffic will be diverted onto surrounding roadways, including Cambridge Street, which is already saturated with local, hospital, downtown, and Garden traffic, and Rutherford Avenue, which the City also plans to narrow.
The Charlestown Bridge is also expected to see increased use and the letter highlights the failing natural gas pipeline that crosses the bridge and passes through the North End. The pipeline has been consistently leaking for decades at risk to public health.
The authors also object to a single Environmental Impact Report (EIR) request rather than a draft and final EIR that would incorporate a longer public review process. (Update: The proponent has apparently withdrawn this request.)
In conclusion, the groups feel the project, as currently proposed, “will have serious impacts to the urban and natural environmental and the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”
The complete joint letter from the neighborhood groups is shown below. (View PDF version of letter.) It was sent to Secretary Richard K. Sullivan, Jr. of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs with attention to the MEPA Office. The letter is signed by President Jim Salini of the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA), President Joseph McGrath of the West End Civic Association (WECA) and President Keeta S. Gilmore of the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA). The 11-page document was also distributed at the most recent meeting of the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association where NEWRA’s David Kubiak was credited as contributing to the letter on behalf of the organization.