Building Heights Downtown
Current heights of development along the Downtown Boston waterfront (shown above) would see a significant increase at the Harbor Garage and Hook Lobster properties under newly proposed guidelines presented this week by the BRA.

After a long pause, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) resumed its meetings for the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP) Advisory Committee Wednesday at City Hall. The 5th floor Piemonte Room was filled to capacity as the public, mostly Harbor Tower residents, and the press came to hear about the recommendations the BRA is proposing.

The three sites discussed were the Harbor Garage property, the Hook Lobster site and the Marriott Long Wharf expansion. Each representing a unique opportunity, according to the consultant, and each evaluation was based on several variables that when combined, can “provide enough flexibility for good architecture.”

The guidelines would establish a 600-foot limit on the height at Harbor Garage, consistent with that proposed by the Chiofaro Company. There would be an added limit for a development of 900,000 square feet rather than the 1.3 million proposed by Chiofaro. Whether that means one or two towers is as yet unclear and Don Chiofaro did not comment at the meeting. Still, the new guidelines are much more amenable to the developer than the current guidelines that limit height to 150 feet and total development space to 300,000 square feet.

The BRA and their partner, Utile Inc. presented their findings in terms of the existing development proposals, addressing each one as a separate entity. Matthew Littell, lead consultant from Utile, spoke about the special characteristics each project represents and how it fits into the overall planning process for the district. According to Littell, “the recommendations represent the maximum standards and not neccessarily what will be built.” The stated goal is to offer a strategy that is equal or better then the Chapter 91 requirements. Those requirements are the principal guidelines for the State to evaluate the proposal. Also, to help the city draw up zoning regulations for the district. The study aims to “establish a set of numerical criteria under which development can happen and still preserve the qualities of the district,” Littell said.

The most important specifications would be:

  • Height
  • Open space
  • FAR, floor area ratio
  • Cubic volume, which is a new measure and would replace the FAR
  • Shadow, wind and set-back from the water’s edge

The proposals studied would all exceed several, if not all, of the current limits. All three projects would reduce their open space below the 50 percent required. All are above the current FAR of 4. Depending on the configuration of the Harbor Garage site, the height and volume (or bulk) requirements would exceed the maximum net new shadow requirements. It would mean more darkness for the much valued Long Wharf. 

The next phase in the planning process is to determine the appropriate offsetting mitigation requirements for those overages.

When time came for comments, the committee has expressed their appreciation for the rigor of the study and raised some additional questions. The evaluation of the economic viability and impact on the district and the surrounding districts was one of the main area of clarification that is needed. They have expressed their concerns regarding how much these maximum limits proposed were over the State’s own limits.

Committee members commented that overall Chapter 91 policies are not being addressed adequately, such as the increase of water dependent use, shadow and wind study requirements and the loss of open space in the area. In addition to concerns within the district, an issue was raised that these limits might impact other water-side communities in the State, since it might provide precedent for allowing the relaxation of the State’s limits elsewhere.

Several of the public comments also focused on worries from increased traffic and the lack of focus on public realm improvements.

The BRA said they will try to address these concerns while continuing with the development of the MHP. To allow more time for this discussion and to allow the public and the committee to express further concerns, the same topic will be presented at the Committee’s next meeting.

The next meeting will be on June 24th, at 6:00 PM to allow additional participants to attend. While the location of that meeting is not determined at this time, further information about the initiative and about upcoming meeting schedules can be found on the BRA’s website for the project or on the project’s own website.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Didn’t the current mayor make a campaign promise to “DISBAND” the BRA???

    Another Liar working for the corporate interest and not the people of Boston.

    Our waterfront is fine the way it is right now.
    Instead we see unattractive buildings going up around Haymarket and North Station that are not close to being filled by tenants. Tourists are asking me why are they building ugly buildings near historic areas? My response is the BRA controls the mayor and Suffolk Construction controls the BRA.

    Forgive them for they know not what they do…or do they?

    • I agree with John. Our waterfront is fine. NYC copied our design, by the way. Yes, we will lose our historic North End……….and to think how upset people are about the Day Care Center closing at the clinic because it is an historic NE site. We have bigger fish to fry. Look what’s happening to our unique neighborhood. The photo shown above looks like Gotham City. Does the BRA think we are stupid. They’re trying to prove the non-offensive and unobtrusive height of buildings. We have lost control, and have no say at all…..that’s the bottom line.

      • I agree with John also. It looks like our new mayor is a friend of the developers and big money. Less start now to make him a one term mayor and elect someone who cares about the neighborhoods and the people who live in them. Let’s keep the Boston waterfront unigue, not over built, not Manhattenized with too much over development!

  2. If they keep building tall buildings on the waterfront. You won’t be able to see the water front. Too much building.

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