Downtown Waterfront Planning Initiative (Source: BRA)

The Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) series of public meetings to further discuss their draft guidelines with the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Planning Advisory Committee and get input from the public continued this week on Wednesday, April 13th. The BRA and the Committee heard a presentation from RKG Associates about development projects included in other Harbor Planning initiatives and the participants’ experience with the process. The Committee also discussed what type of offsetting strategies could apply to the projects in the Downtown Waterfront district.

Mr. Richard McGuiness, Deputy Director for Waterfront Planning at the BRA, opened the meeting with an introduction of Mr. Craig R. Seymour, Managing Principal of RKG Associates. The BRA has contracted RKG Associates to interview current and past developers and owners about the offsetting strategies they have had to comply with.

Mr. McGuiness has also informed the audience that the Mayor’s “Idea Contest” for the renovation of the Northern Avenue Bridge is still ongoing. The deadline for proposals is April 22nd. An awards ceremony is planned at a later date for the winning submissions. See the website Bridging History for further details.

Mr. Seymour explained that while all projects calculated some baseline requirements and offsets into financing their projects, uncertainty about market conditions, design changes due to special circumstances and time delays added increased risks to the feasibility of their projects. There were several factors that made it impossible to compare the projects to each other and to draw definite conclusion for offsetting strategies that could be applied in the case for the Downtown Waterfront.

Each of the projects discussed were unique in lot size and height. Chapter 91 requirements represented only a fraction of the many others the developers had to comply with. Permitting, title costs and market forces all played an important role in their progress.

Costs associated with the improvement to the Harborwalk varied significantly, depending on the size and the actual location. The range were between $1 to $16 per square feet, approximately.

None of the interviewees could estimate the additional value that the baseline and offsetting improvements brought to their projects at the end. They were all sure that those additional benefits contributed to the increased value of their property, but could not estimate the actual dollar value.

Some of the projects Mr. Seymour has talked to included the Russia, Lovejoy Wharfs, Fan Pier and Pier Four.

After the presentation, Mr. McGuiness clarified some numbers, and explained that, for example, the ICA at Fan Pier and the surrounding Harborwalk in the Seaport District brought enormous value to the area.

The committee noted, that all those requirements were met by the developers on their own property. The only commonality that could be found between the projects, were that the required offsets were site specific. Mr. McGuiness explained, that the reason for this is mostly because the offsets has to be concurrent with the impact of the projects.

The committee expressed their desire to investigate further if a district wide strategy would be better in the case of the Downtown Waterfront. Jesse Brackenbury (Greenway Conservancy) and Bud Ris (North End resident, former President of the New England Aquarium) both cautioned the committee and the BRA that many factors should be incorporated into the strategy that will contribute to the long term vitality of the area and not just provide short term benefits.

Members of the public were also pessimistic that the balance between risk to the public realm and risk to the developers are not proportional. Neither of them benefits, but in reverse.

When asked, Mr. McGuiness explained that while the deadline for submitting the draft to the State’s review board was the actual day of the meeting, the BRA has submitted a 6 month extension notice, siting the ongoing discussion and evaluation.

Several public members have also asked, again, if the meetings could be held at a later time during the day, so additional members of the public could attend. Mr. McGuiness responded that while the next several meetings have been scheduled already, during the public comments period, the BRA will try to accommodate those who are on a regular work hour schedule.

The next meeting is scheduled for May 11th, 3pm, at Boston City Hall, 5th Floor. The full description of the project, meetings scheduled and all the documents can be found on the BRA’s Downtown Waterfront Planning Initiative website.