The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) presented its final draft guidelines on April 29th at the seventh (and last) public meeting as part of its Greenway District Planning Study. The conclusions were similar to those presented last month at the sixth meeting that spurred the media feud between developer Don Chiofaro and the BRA/Mayor Menino. The 200’ height limit set at the Harbor Garage site sharply contrasts with Chiofaro’s proposal for 600’+ high towers. The BRA’s Chief Planner Kairos Shen said he “expects developers to adapt to these Greenway district height guidelines.” Chiofaro and his supporters were noticeably absent from the meeting, after holding a media event the previous day challenging the BRA’s study. Following the meeting, press reports indicate that he may look to add three levels of parking to the garage.
The press coverage has been mostly about the Harbor Garage site, but the study impacts the entire district adjacent to the Greenway from the North End to Chinatown. Here are some summary notes from the presentation that will form the draft guidelines likely to go into effect as early as June 2010. (Click here to view the entire presentation from the BRA’s website.)
The slide below shows the entire area covered by the study (click the image to enlarge). The dark brown buildings would be new additions and the blue boxes identify the height and square footage numbers that will become part of the final guidelines. The boxes with red borders are heights the BRA has high confidence in their recommendation based on community feedback, existing zoning or some type of shadow/wind research.
The North End district is shown in the slide below. The BRA’s consultant said, “fifty-five feet in the North End is a height limit that we feel comfortable with from a technical and conceptual standpoint.” As shown, the Cross Street “crescents” between Hanover and Endicott Streets are filled in with 55 feet buildings. Parcel 11A in front of Mother Anna’s is also shown with a 55 foot building.
One of the significant changes from the last meeting is to increase the height limit for Parcel 11B to a range up to 85 feet. The parcel is where the Fulton St. parking lot now exists. At the last meeting, the parcel was shown entirely as 55 feet, the general zoning height of the North End.
When asked about the increase to 85 feet at Parcel 11B, BRA’s Sr. Planner, Peter Gori, answered that additional parking levels would be needed to replace the lot. In addition, they believe added height would mitigate noise from the tunnel on that side and “link” its height level to Mercantile Wharf which is also above 55 feet. Gori noted that the Fulton St. side of the parcel could be on the lower side of the 55’-85’ range given the lower existing buildings.
The slide below shows the intentions and challenges of connecting the Greenway parks to the surrounding Market District and North End areas. The inset depicts the proposed “urban nursery” on Parcel 12 (a ramp parcel). The red lines show the desired crossroads for North St., Hanover St., Salem St. and Endicott St.
The Wharf District guideline recommendations are shown on the slide below. Notably, the 200’ height limit on Chiofaro’s Harbor Garage directly inhibits his proposed 600’ tower plan. Several residents from Harbor Towers vocalized strong support for the BRA’s recommendations at the meeting.
Continuing with the theme of lower heights on the waterfront side of the Greenway, the Hook Lobster site and 400 Atlantic Avenue (Coast Guard Building) have 175’ height limits. The BRA’s Shen said that Rowes Wharf is the inspiration for the wharf district, representing an economically successful development of reasonable height along the waterfront.
For the Market District (see slide below), the BRA is recommending 55’ at Parcel 9, up to 85’ at Blackstone Street and up to 125’ at the Dock Square Garage. Notably, the city still considers a “Y” fitness/youth facility to be preferred use for Parcel 6.
The above slide shows the Government Center Garage with heights starting at 125’ on the Greenway side and going up to 600’ on the far side near the Kennedy Building. This area stands out in the study given its dense massing. When questioned at the meeting, the BRA indicated that its distance away from the Greenway allows the site to have more height and “links” it to level set at International Place amid “cues of those found in the Bullfinch Triangle.” Several meeting attendees thought the Government Center Garage sites should be excluded from the study.
The BRA used part of this meeting to identify how its recommendations will “activate” the Greenway parks. The proposed structures in the guidelines will result in only a modest increase in population. Therefore, the BRA’s consultant said they “need to get people that are already there on the Greenway.” Ideas displayed included food vending, cafes, music concerts and public art. In addition, the City is working on buffering traffic that could reduce the surface roads to 2 lanes during off-peak periods. BTD is also re-programming the traffic lights and providing additional allowance for street parking.
In early May, a final report will be available for 30 days of public comment before the BRA Board Meeting on June 22nd. The report will have height recommendations, as well as guidelines for ground floor design, environmental and cafe use.
Comments on the guidelines can be sent to Peter.Gori.BRA@cityofboston.gov. When the BRA Board approves the guidelines, they will go into immediate effect for project review. The BRA will spend the next year to have the guidelines incorporated into zoning laws by creating an overlay district. Another challenge may come from the State because the guidelines have greater massing and less open space than allowed under the State’s Chapter 91 used for municipal harbor planning. The City will work with the State to adopt the new guidelines.