Before a proposal was even filed, plenty of ink was spilled regarding the “fight” over Lewis Wharf and the proposed hotel project by JW Capital Partners and contractor John Moriarty & Associates. Now, there is actually something to talk about with the formal submittal of a Project Notification Form (large PDF). The document kicks off the formal review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and its public comment period. Before the filing, the BRA hosted two preliminary meetings (see #1 here and #2 here) with its Impact Advisory Group (IAG).
Let’s cover some details of the planned Lewis Wharf project from the PNF filing. The proposal renderings show a completely redeveloped 9-acre property around the existing granite condominium and Pilot House buildings. A new luxury, currently unbranded, hotel extends out into the harbor on two piers with 277 rooms (186,944 sq. ft.). The hotel will encompass two 55′ high buildings over the existing piling field. A one story, glass-enclosed lobby connector will join the two wings.
The existing surface parking lot on Atlantic Avenue will be replaced by open space over an underground 379-space parking garage. The entire complex will be surrounded by an 1,800 linear foot Harborwalk, featuring 35′ viewing esplanades at the end of the hotel piers. The property would include 125,082 sq. ft. of outdoor space with a 54,480 sq. ft. park and 3,122 sq. ft. for the Boston Sailing Center that would have 130 marina slips.
The intent is to operate a 4-5 star luxury hotel, but the developer says no specific flag or brand has been determined. The hotel itself will have a ballroom and event spaces similar in scope to the Boston Harbor Hotel for celebrations plus a restaurant, cafe/bar, outdoor dining and shops.
As for community benefits, the PNF shows the property surrounded by green space and pedestrian pathways from Atlantic Avenue to the waterfront.
“This is a real park,” said Will Adams of JW Capital in a NorthEndWaterfront.com interview. “The parking lot will be replaced by a 1.25 acre well-maintained park consisting of lawns, trees and benches,” he added. “It’s a blank canvas and we are open to what type of features would best serve the neighborhood.”
“We have heard concerns about noise from abutters so to limit that, we are thinking that programmed space would be in the Water Court area,” said JWCP’s Adams. The Water Court will be the “heart and soul” of the hotel, said Adams, situated on the harborside of the glass lobby connector between the two new buildings and segregated from the surrounding neighbors. It will feature terraced seating areas and curved outdoor steps with social and cafe table space. Adams also said the lounge areas on the roof top of the hotel would be designed to mitigate noise and geared toward view gazing by guests.
The lawn on the South side of the granite condominium building would be similar to what it is today. The pool would be relocated, but remain exclusively for condo residents, not hotel guests.
The proponent has intentionally scaled and designed the project to meet current requirements as put forward by city and state regulators. For example, an earlier plan with condos was scrapped because hotel rooms are considered “public” whereas residences are “private.”
The project is set at 55 feet in height, before mechanicals, within current zoning guidelines that were largely set from a early 1990’s Municipal Harborpark Plan (pdf). The developer’s stated case is that “the requirements mandated by the Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act (Chapter 91) and the 1991 Municipal Harbor Plan are the guiding force behind all proposed actions taken along the Commonwealth’s shorelines and this plan is at 100% compliance.” This includes the 50% open space requirement under Chapter 91. The proponent is emphasizing watersheet activation, mostly through a reinvigorated Boston Sailing Center.
JWCP also compares its proposal to the 1991 approved plans by the Gunwyn Company for a slightly larger hotel project (6 floors and 335 rooms) with underground parking, fully permitted at the time under the Harborpark plan. The Gunwyn project was never built due to the early 1990’s recession. The commercial property at Lewis Wharf is currently owned by DeNormandie Companies, including watersheet rights over the existing piling fields.
The 30 foot, underground 379-space public parking garage is expected to accommodate the current parking needs in the 225 space surface lot (including ~65 monthly parkers), plus another 155 for the hotel.
The PNF includes a traffic analysis by the developer consultants implying a minimal impact on a relative basis to what is an already congested area. Most car traffic would be to and from the I-93 tunnels. Extensive use of alternative transportation is discussed in the filing including Zipcars, Hubway and biking accommodations. The project location is about a five minute walk to the MBTA Blue Line Aquarium station and on the Route 4 MBTA bus route. On the harbor side, the Project anticipates adding a water taxi stop to the Lewis Wharf site. Further traffic analysis is expected in cooperation with the BRA and Boston Transportation Department as part of the project review.
Of keen interest to economic development officials will be the estimated $7.4 million in city and state taxes annually. To date, the developer has not requested any tax breaks. The PNF provides assurances on basic utility and services for water and sewers.
Regarding sea level rise and climate change preparedness, the project will exceed FEMA’s 18.46 feet over base elevation regulations with the proposal estimating 20.5 feet elevation for the first floor of the hotel. Paving and landscaping will be designed for short-term flooding and critical equipment will be located above the second floor.
As for the timeline, if approved after a 1-2 year regulatory review, construction is estimated to last approximately 36 months with initial site work expected to begin in the second quarter of 2017 and completion in the second quarter of 2020.
Upcoming BRA Meetings
On Wednesday September 30th @ 7:00pm the proponent will present to the IAG for the first time under their formal Article 80 review. According to the BRA, the public may come and participate if any time is leftover, but IAG members will have preference to speak. The meeting will be held at the Nazarro Center, immediately following an Eliot School meeting that starts at 6pm.
On Wednesday October 7th @ 7:00pm the public is invited to a community meeting where the project will be presented. This meeting will also be at the Nazzaro Center (in gymnasium). This will be more of an open forum and everyone will have an opportunity to fully participate.
The official public comment period is now open and set to expire on October 15th. Public Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.