Video timeline for Lewis Wharf public forum held October 7th public forum: (00:00 Introduction by BRA, 06:00 Developer Presentation, 28:30 Public Comments)
Emotions ran high at one of the largest public forums ever seen in the North End on October 7th for the proposed Lewis Wharf project. It was standing room only in the massive gymnasium at the Nazzaro Center as the Boston Redevelopment Authority hosted the fourth meeting on the project after three smaller Impact Advisory Group sessions (IAG #1, IAG #2, IAG #3). BRA Project manager Chris Tracy said that the number of comment letters is running quite high with 300 received so far, a week before the October 15, 2015 comment deadline. Comments can be emailed for the record to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dozens of people commented verbally at the 2-hour meeting, with the majority speaking against the hotel development. The opposition has organized under Save Our North End Waterfront, with a large representation of abutters from the surrounding properties. The most repeated objections included the large scale and density of the project along with an anticipated increase in traffic. As in past meetings, there was skepticism regarding the park space, concerns about noise from hotel guests/functions and claims the project “walls off the waterfront.”
Supporters of the developer were vocal as well, including a mix of residents, business owners, union, construction and hospitality workers. Those in favor of the project highlighted the new jobs, replacing the parking lot with a park, Harborwalk access and improving the appearance of the area that is currently a dilapidated piling field.
Unfortunately, many commenters were heckled and several shouting matches broke out before and during the public session. Police were called and on site during the forum. At times, the discussion became divisive and hostile. Among the barbs thrown were harsh, sterotypical references to types of people living in various parts of the neighborhood (waterfront vs. interior North End, newcomer vs. oldtimer, rich vs. poor, etc.).
The opposition group received a big win earlier in the day from the North End’s elected officials at the State and City level who wrote a joint letter to the BRA against the project. [See Elected Officials Michlewitz, LaMattina & Petrucelli Take Stand Against Lewis Wharf Hotel Project].
Developer JW Capital Partners LLC emphasized the project benefits, including jobs (150 permanent, 300 construction), $7.4 million of tax revenues, newly added park space and greater water taxi access. Shortly before the meeting, a video was released supporting the project. The proposal completely redevelops the 9-acre property around the existing granite condominium and Pilot House buildings. A new luxury, currently unbranded, hotel would extend out over the existing piling field into the harbor with two 55′ high buildings providing 277 rooms (186,944 sq. ft.). A glass-enclosed lobby connector will join the two wings. The existing surface parking lot on Atlantic Avenue will be replaced by 1.25 acres of park and open space over an underground 379-space parking garage. The entire complex will be surrounded by an 1,800 linear foot Harborwalk and include a new building for the Boston Sailing Center that would have 130 marina slips.
There were some new renderings requested by the IAG, but the project plans are basically the same as in the recent PNF filing. The IAG has also asked the proponent for a more detailed traffic study that is currently in progress. The developer contends the proposal is 100% compliant with existing City zoning and State Chapter 91 requirements. The BRA project manager said the “as of right” status of the submitted project plan continues to be under review at City Hall.