The Harbor Garage Impact Advisory Group (IAG) recently heard three scenarios from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) as part of the Greenway District Planning Study (GDPS). Although Don Chiofaro, developer and owner of the garage site, was present at the meeting, he did not comment on the presentation. However, it was obvious that the BRA’s scenarios differed substantially from his 625 foot high tower proposal. The BRA is planning on releasing its draft guidelines for the GDPS in February 2010.
Peter Gori, Sr. Planner for the BRA, introduced the three scenarios by noting that the site is unique because it is very close to both the harbor and the Greenway parks. The current garage on the site is 70 feet or about 7 stories.
Scenario 1 does not replace or demolish the current garage, but adds an office addition on top of it, bringing its height to 200 feet (excluding mechanicals). The structure would be about 16 stories and add about 260,000 square feet of office space.
Scenario 2 demolishes the existing garage and builds a new tower that is approximately 250 feet high with 20 stories. The tower would have retail on the first floor, office space on the next four floors but primarily residential with 16 floors of condo/apartment/hotel use. The lot is split to allow a diagonal gap between the main structure and a smaller building on the aquarium side that could be small civic space, retail or tied to the aquarium. At previous meetings, this plan received a positive reaction, according to Gori, because it connected the waterfront to the Greenway. The new building would be somewhat taller than the abutting 255 State St. building.
The third scenario (labeled 2b) is a two tower plan at the same height of the existing Harbor Towers (~400 feet). However, instead of a vertical exterior from top to bottom, the plan shows podiums for retail on the first floor, four floors of office space and then residential or hotel on the upper 31 floors. The total square footage of both towers would be approximately 1 million square feet. A gap would be present between the towers to connect the harbor and greenway parks.
During the Q&A, a few points were noted:
- The BRA did not consider a monolithic tower for this site (other than Scenario 1).
- Harbor Tower residents voiced a desire to have more space on the sides, along East India row. An IAG member indicated that Harbor Towers is a vertical neighborhood of 1,200 people.
- The BRA prefers residential use for this downtown site.
- An IAG member indicated that it was undesirable to create “alleys” such as between Atlantic/Russia Wharf and the Intercontinental. A wider “avenue” of a similar scale to the adjacent park on the aquarium side was suggested.
- Feasibility is not the BRA’s job, but rather that of developers. The BRA did not create these scenarios for any specific developer.
- The Greenway Conservancy is hesitant to comment on the proposal because it does not know what the plan is for the entire Greenway area.
Municipal Harbor Plan and Open Space Requirements
The BRA announced they will be using a revised Municipal Harbor Plan interpretation of open space requirements along the Greenway districts. Scenario 1 for the Harbor Garage site proposes no open space while the other 2 scenarios include only 20% open space. This is below the State’s Chapter 91 requirements that new development on tideland parcels include 50% open space to protect the public’s access.
Instead of requiring 50% of open space per parcel, the BRA would look to have the equivalent open space made up elsewhere. Thus, a developer such as the Chiofaro Company could have 50% of open space on the site of the harbor garage OR acquire open space property elsewhere in the district to make up for what is lacking on the Harbor Garage site. An IAG member called it “non-connective mitigation.” The BRA used an example in the Seaport district where the MHP has been interpreted to require only 30% of open space on the site with the remaining 20% off-site.
The BRA indicated they will not develop a new Municipal Harbor Plan. In addition, they said that Chapter 91 does not have absolute open space requirements. However, in answer to a question, it was clarified that current Boston waterfront parcels are designated to have 50% open space per parcel. It was unclear how this designation would be changed under the BRA’s new proposal.
David Kubiak, North End resident, stated that all of the BRA scenarios violate the MHP. He expressed disappointment because the State and the BRA set an expectation in their decisions on the Project Notification Form/Environmental Notification Form last year that the BRA would conduct a renewal of the MHP.
At the next planning meeting, the BRA will show other parcel sites along the Greenway. It will also consider what the impact of more residents and/or office workers would have on the area. After that, wind and shadow impacts would have to be studied.
The next meeting will be in late February 2010.
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