The North End’s State Representative Aaron Michlewitz spoke at a meeting on June 15, 2015 regarding the proposed Lewis Wharf Hotel project. (Photo by Matt Conti)

Waterfront residents packed into the Pilot House for a standing-room only meeting with State Representative Aaron Michlewitz to express their concerns about the proposed Lewis Wharf Hotel plan filed earlier this month by JW Capital Partners. Several North End / Waterfront buildings were represented at the meeting by condominium residents from Lewis Wharf, Prince Building, Commercial Wharf, the Mariner, Union Wharf, Lincoln Wharf, Battery Wharf and Harbor Towers.

A resident opposition group formed last year when the first iteration of the project became public at a Neighborhood Council meeting. A handout and poster titled “Save the North End/Waterfront” stated “This development would significantly eliminate the natural vista enjoyed by Boston residents and thousands of visitors who pass this area of Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue. This massive development seeks to change the nature and character of our historic residential waterfront neighborhood.”

Large posters displayed at the meeting show compromised view corridors of Boston Harbor by the proposed two-building hotel development, even at the zoned 55 foot height. “Why do they say they want to increase access to the harbor when it’s obviously blocking it?” one resident queried in a recurring sentiment expressed at the meeting that a hotel could close off the area. “It may be appropriate for the Seaport District, where they are converting vacant, commercial parking lots but it is not appropriate for the historical enclave of the North End/Waterfront residential district,” stated the group’s position in a handout at the meeting.

Traffic conditions along Atlantic Avenue were raised as a primary concern, especially with the increase in cars that would come from a 300-key hotel. Many residents said that recently completed development projects along Boston’s waterfront have already caused gridlock. One man complained that for visitors, “it can take an hour to drive from South Station to the North End,” a distance of about one mile. Several attendees cited the recent loss of a vehicle lane for bike lanes, saying the situation will only get worse when the approved bike cycle track narrows the road further.

Rep. Michlewitz speaks to the crows at the Pilot House. (Photo by Edward L. Amaral, Jr.)
Rep. Michlewitz speaks to the crowd at the Pilot House. (Photo by Edward L. Amaral, Jr.)

Rep. Michlewitz said he receives 8-10 emails a day regarding development concerns in what he called the “greatest construction boom in Boston since the Industrial Revolution.” He sympathized with neighbor concerns regarding more waterfront buildings. “I believe that Battery Wharf Hotel was a failure in that it did not bring an increase in open space to the waterfront,” said Michlewitz. Prince Building resident Doug Sheffe added, “We don’t need a hotel to get more green space.”

Concerns about noise from hotel functions and proposed rooftop lounges were also raised at the meeting. One resident said, “Noise is already a big problem with so much late night activity.” Environmental deterioration of the area was also noted by a mother in attendance who said that her “windowsill already gets black from the pollution.”

Many residents expressed futility at the process and “broken promises,” citing concerns about property values and the quality of life issues that may come with the new hotel development.

Rep. Michlewitz offered guidance to the frustrated crowd as to how they can get involved in the public process.”Filling the room like you have done tonight at these public meetings is important. I’ve seen public opinion change the course of proposed development,” Rep. Michlewitz said. “At 585 Commercial Street, public opposition to a private development eventually paved the way for a new public school in the North End.”

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is expected to conduct an Article 80 “large project review” that will include input from an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) consisting residents and appointees of public officials. The BRA Board is expected to be the primary approval entity for the project. The State also has a role through Chapter 91 compliance, a determination made by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Vivien Li, President of The Boston Harbor Association commended the group on banding together in such an “impressive showing.” She advised Rep. Michlewitz to take State officials on a site tour with residents before they make a determination of where a developer can build on the water. “DEP’s determination of whether the site can be built on is the key,” Li said.

The group is also considering its legal options to oppose the project. Organizer Doug Sheffe said, “There are at least 20 ways to stop this project. The question is how we are going to win this fight, not how we are going to lose it.” He encouraged residents to go back to their respective buildings and prepare their boards to fund a legal battle.

Specifically, residents are counting on the legal protection granted to Lewis Wharf in 1832 by the Massachusetts Legislature and a 1979 court ruling regarding the piling field. The following is from a handout at the meeting:

Harbor tidelands, over which the proposed project would be constructed, have been recognized since the beginning of our nation to be a unique kind of property, subject to a public trust for the benefit of all who seek to use the harbor. Title to the land under the pilings at the end of Lewis Wharf was conveyed by a grant of the Massachusetts Legislature in 1832 to the Lewis Wharf Company. The grant was specifically made subject to a “public trust” and to be used for a “public purpose.” That specific restriction on the land at the end of Lewis Wharf, consistent with other public tidelands, continues to this day. In the case of Boston Waterfront Development Corp. v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 378 Mass 369 (1979), the Supreme Judicial Court addressed the very land and pilings in question at the end of Lewis Wharf. The Court held that “the land in question is subject to the condition that it be used for a public purpose related to the promot(ion of) trade and commerce by enabling and encouraging the owners of flats to build wharves, warehouses and other structures thereon for the use and convenience of …. those having occasion to resort to the ports and harbors.” What the developer is proposing to do at Lewis Wharf is “NOT” for the benefit of marine commerce or for a “public purpose.”

The “Save The North End/Waterfront” group referred to the precedent the project may set for the neighborhood. Joanne Hayes-Rines shared her experience from Harbor Towers and the proposed Chiofaro tower project that recently gained favor with the BRA from changing waterfront guidelines. She encouraged residents to view more information at the Preserve Boston’s Waterfront website.

Organizers of “Save the North End/Waterfront” are encouraging residents to sign an online petition and join their Facebook page for updates.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. It took 50 minutes for me to get from the Golden Goose to South Station last Friday at 2 pm… this will just makes things worse…

  2. The BRA Board has final approval? What good are these meetings, in that case. That strip of our waterfront is our window to the water and the open space environment. Cannot fathom the advantage or purpose of this project. I hate it.

    • Anne, It is all about C A S H, not Quality. We could have had both, but GREED has taken over. Don’t give up the
      fight.

  3. The space is now mostly ugly surface parking, and contains one of the most disconnected parts of the Harbor
    Walk. The proposed development will create 2.4 acres of real, not paved and parked on, open space; provide an additional 1,800 linear feet of much more connected and aesthetic harbor walk; improve and increase access to the water’s
    edge; create a 1.25 acre park replacing the current surface parking lot; and provide a permanent home for the Sailing Center. It will improve the neighborhood, increase North End residents’ property value, and most importantly create a significant number of jobs.

  4. I live at the intersection of Battery and Commercial St. The traffic at this intersection is really dangerous due to all of the activity at the Battery Wharf Hotel. The valets speed in and out of the hotel and their parking garage disregarding all stop lights. The tour buses that pick up people at the hotel block traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists. They also sit and idle creating noise and air pollution. More and more large trucks are using Commercial as a through way to get around the tunnel restrictions. This neighborhood is loosing all of it’s charm. For those of us who live here our quality of life is getting worse every day. Say “No” to more North End waterfront development.

  5. The Viper, The No. End lost its Charm a Long time ago. Unfortunately, the name of the game is M O N E Y, THE
    ROOT OF ALL EVIL. The City has made it very clear they do not care about the Present Residents and it will only get
    worse. Revenue is the City’s Claim to Fame, not Quality of Life for those of us who remain here. What a Shame.

  6. It’s especially critical that neighborhood residents be vigilant when the new administration at city hall has thrown its doors open to the biggest development boom in Boston’s history. With 4,565,000 sq ft of construction planned for the North End, Waterfront & Greenway — some far exceeding zoning guidelines, and the blatant land grab that the Mayor and a cabal of Real Estate Developers and Construction Magnates are trying to push through with their disastrous Olympic Bid, these are precarious times for our community.

    Boston now ranks 6th in the WORLD when it comes to foreign investment in real estate, with $10.4 Billion invested last year — behind only London, New York, Tokyo, Paris, and Los Angeles despite having a land mass which is just a fraction of those sprawling cities. But who benefits? The big real estate developers and construction magnates will reap enormous profits, but what will happen to our neighborhoods?

    Projects get rubber-stamped, and no thought is given to how they affect the quality of life, traffic, owner occupancy rates, demographic and economic diversity. If Mayor Walsh’s goal is to make Boston into a smaller version of Manhattan, benefitting real estate developers, and making our city unlivable for all but the uber-elite, then he’s on the right path. But that’s not what most Bostonians want.

    Luckily each of those real estate magnates and construction titans only have one vote. A mayoral election is not far off, and it’s especially critical that we all step up and fight to ensure that the interests of our neighborhoods are protected. We’ve got to continue to voice our opposition to inappropriate development, we’ve got to continue organizing against specific projects that jeopardize the future of our neighborhoods, and we’ve got to educate ourselves to see the truth behind the slick promises of developers. Most importantly we have to vote and support candidates that will represent the interests of ALL Bostonians, not just the real estate developers, construction magnates and special interest groups who got our current mayor elected. I voted for Mayor Walsh last time, but I won’t be fooled again.

    Thank you so much to the group behind of Save the North End/Waterfront for leading the fight! Please sign their online petition and join their Facebook page for updates on future events.

  7. Thank you so much Lisa, you couldn’t have put it any better. This is NEVER, EVER GOING TO BE A MINIATURE N.Y.C.
    I have spoken to quite a few people from N.Y. & they can’t get over what goes on in this City. We definitely DO NOT
    HAVE THE POLICE PROTECTION THEY HAVE & WE CERTAINLY DON’T HAVE THE SPACE. They are cramming
    everything & anything in this extremely small space, which is only a little more than a 1/4 mile sq. radius, I think. I am with you, we have
    to put up a FIGHT like this city has never seen before. The developer who wanted to purchase 585 Commercial St.
    was shot down from going up 85 Ft. & they can thank the Women of the No. End who protested out City Hall for that.
    It is amazing what goes on in this City, isn’t it? A North End Restaurant on Prince St. which was HANDICAP ACCESSIBLE
    is no longer Accessible. The restrooms were put in the Basement & the City let them get away with this. It is the lying
    that kills me & also the biggest insult to the intelligence. I frequented this restaurant all the time & I know for a fact the
    restrooms were never down the basement. HOW DO YOU THINK THEY GOT AWAY WITH THIS LISA?
    I think it is a Great Idea to involve all the News Media that we can & like him or not, BILL O’REILLY.

    • Boston should have public access/transient docking for visitors to the city built there as there is non availble.

      • William, Boston should have a lot of things, especially with the High Taxes that Residents are Paying.

        The Tourism brings in plenty of Revenue for the City, but let us never, ever forget the Taxes we are Paying to live
        here. We should never be thrown aside for Tourism, our Taxes should count just like Tourism and
        too much has already be taken away from us. The Waterfront is no longer considered part of the the No..End, it
        is the Waterfront, half of No. Washington Street has been taken away from us & is referred to as the West End, etc.

        What I want to know is what is it going to take or HOW MUCH is it going to take for this City to be satisfied.

        The City is looking to host the Olympics in Boston & the surrounding areas, that will be an absolute disaster for
        those of us who live here. If the City does get to host the Olympics, I hope they call on the National Guard
        for this, because the Boston Police will never be able to handle it. This City will be a Playground for every
        thief & misfit in the Country. I really believe there is a HAPPY MEDIUM, but the City has to stop being so
        GREEDY.

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