Real Estate

Progress Report on the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan Draft

Study area for Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan
Study area for Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (Source: BRA)

Wednesday’s meeting of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) continued the work on the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP) draft. The Advisory Committee and the public heard statements from the BRA and Utile Inc, about the progress that was made and the decision making process that is ongoing.

Mr. Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Waterfront Planning at the BRA started the meeting by informing the committee that a new agency, RKG Associates, was selected to perform the analysis of possible offset strategies with owners and developers from other planning areas. The assessment will focus on ways that developers and the BRA can work together to best utilize the funds that will be generated by the projects in the area towards the MHP mandated public realm enhancements.

Matthew Littell, Principal from Utile Inc. presented a summary of the progress that has been made so far. He emphasized that the goal is to prioritize the public realm improvements that would result from the offsets provided by the development of the three main projects impacting the area.

Mr. Littell explained that Chapter 91 legislation specifies the state’s preferences for the impact of offsets offered. These are on-site offsets, priority area offsets, connectivity improvements and finally, if none of the previous options are available, district wide improvements. These preferences will be considered while drawing up the draft for the DWMHP.

The current MHP draft includes considerations for prioritization of benefits, such as the shadow analysis, improvement of connectivity tissue, future opportunity sites (e.g. the Charter House parking lot) and focus on the water’s edge. Mr. Littell also expressed the desire to give the district an identity within the collection of Boston neighborhoods.

When addressing specific projects, Mr. Littell pointed out that the Marriott Hotel is at a special location, both historically and physically. The site predates Chapter 91. regulations and the owner of the property is seeking the expansion of the ground level footprint of the building. The expansion would be over the state’s limit of 50% of lot coverage, and would need special attention not to encroach on the current public access areas. In addition, the Long Wharf area represents 30% of the total waterfront area within the district.

Committee members expressed concerns, that the current anchor in the area, the Greenway Carousel would lose its role as an anchor point, if wayfinding in the area is impaired by the extension. Mr. Littell agreed, and added that the additional benefits could include enhanced navigation, and using the Carousel as a stepping stone in the Faneuil Hall – Greenway – Columbus Park corridor.

It was brought to the board’s attention, that the owner of the site, Sunstone Hotel Investors Inc., is advocating for the expansion, and that the Marriott Hotels as the tenant might be negatively impacted as well.

Discussing the ‘Hook Lobster’ site, Mr. Littell focused on the importance of the role the parcel plays connecting the Harborwalk from Rowes Wharf to the 400 Atlantic Ave. location and how it plays an increased role in the revitalization of the Northern Avenue Bridge. The bridge just recently gained renewed focus by the city, and an “Idea Contest” has be announced, where the public is welcomed to submit ideas about the use and configuration of the structure. Please visit the Bridging History website for more information.

While the Hook site is in poor shape, the fact that it is over tidelands makes it another area the requires special attention. Several previous studies have determined that navigating around the site and across the new bridge is difficult. Possible improvements could clarify and improve access to the water’s edge and the proposed Harborwalk on the site. A proposed 67% of lot coverage, and the special legislation for building over tidelands would call for additional offsets from the developer.

The presentation also addressed the development of the ‘Harbor Garage‘. The BRA is advocating offsets to address the issue with the direct use of the water. The near 100% proposed lot coverage, the visual and physical access limitations to the water and the various shadow studies all indicate that a multitude of offsets will be required from the developers/owners of the site. A strategy could be developed that would perhaps require clear sight of the water from the Greenway, an analysis of the impact on the Aquarium plaza. If the building(s) reach a certain height, it is possible that even Long Wharf might be impacted. The regulation requiring “no net new shadow” by any development will have to be mitigated as well.

On the issue of 100% lot coverage, the proposed “Winter Garden” at the Harbor Garage development does not comply with requirements of providing 50% open-air public space. The glass covered area is currently under discussion between the BRA, the state and the developer. The BRA is suggesting a maximum of 70% lot coverage, with an open park either on the northern side of the property, adjacent to the current park, or on the water facing side of the property. Any excess over 50% of lot coverage would require offsets and even more if the lot coverage goes above 70%. These details are still under discussion.

After several concerns were raised by the public, Mr. Littell assured the committee and the audience, that qualitative standards will be included in the draft as well. In addition to the provisions and offsets, the project will have to comply with zoning regulations set forward in the Greenway Overlay District’s regulations.

After the presentation, Mr. McGuinness closed the meeting with the reminder that the next committee meeting will be held on April 13th, also in the Piemonte Room. Further information and documents can be found on the BRA’s Downtown Waterfront Planning Initiative website.

The following implementation draft document was handed out during the meeting, detailing specific action items along the planning area.