Wednesday’s meeting in City Hall’s Piedmont Room was again the place to discuss the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) plan for the vision of the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (DWMHP). The BRA continues the conversation with the DWMHP Advisory Committee, and the public, about a comprehensive Public Realm Benefits plan for the district. On the agenda, were presentations by Mr. Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Waterfront Planning and Matthew Littell, Principal at Utile Inc, followed by a discussion of the prioritization of Public Realm benefits for the district.
Mr. McGuinness started the meeting with announcing the schedule for the four remaining meetings. The meetings will be scheduled for May 25th, June 15th, June 22nd and July 20th. The proposed June 22nd and July 20th meetings are tentatively scheduled for 6pm – 8pm, to allow additional public attendance. The venue might also change from City Hall, back to the Boston Society of Architects meeting room, if possible.
The agenda for the June 15th meeting will be dedicated to the discussion of climate change issues. The Mayor and the city are focusing a their attention on addressing climate change issues in the city, and the BRA finds the issue especially pertinent during the waterfront planning process.
Between July 20th (the date of the last meeting) and September, the BRA will prepare the MHP for a board review. During this period, there will be opportunity for the public to comment on the plan as well. The board will submit the MHP and after receiving an authorization from its board, submit it to the State. The State is expected to conduct an approximately 120 days consultation period which will include opportunity for the public to comment as well. Details will be posted on the BRA’s website.
Mr. McGuinness asked the committee that while the plan includes baseline public realm benefits that will be required from all developers, the offsets that would be considered needs to include several alternatives. The plan would provide guidance in case the initial public improvement recommendation is not feasible, for alternatives. The MHP is valid for at least 10 years, and there is a possibility that some of the offsets will not make sense after a while. Mr. McGuinness has mentioned that for example, if the improvements for the Chart House parking lot are included in the substitute provisions for the developers, and the improvements will happen by other means, the developer should still be held accountable for alternatives, included in the plan.
Mr. Littell urged the committee to think of a comprehensive strategy when recommending options for offsets. While most of the benefits from each project would be on-site, there should be a vision that allows for a district wide transformative vision to emerge that benefits more then just the immediate area where the development is happening. As an example, Mr. Littell mentioned that the build-out of the new Harborwalk around the Hook Lobster site, would be one of those off-site, public real benefit. In his presentation, Mr. Littell and Mr. McGuinness showed several offsetting opportunities for each site in 4 categories. The MHP would include all or some of these categories. The slide showed rough estimates for various possible public realm improvements that could be required by the plan.
Committee member Bud Ris asked for other figures that correspond to the other categories as well. He explained that it is difficult to decide an appropriate substitute provision, without knowing what is the range under consideration. Mr. McGuinness agreed and will provide figures at a later date.
Mr. Ris also stated that while the committee disagrees with the BRA on the maximums included in the plan, understanding the offsetting strategy will help bridge that difference. Mr. McGuinness reminded the committee that the current allowed maximum is 600 feet for height and 70% lot coverage. Also, no information is available from the developers, at this time.
Committee member Bruce Berman asked that the plan should include that the projects provide funds or other means for filling water bottles and WiFi along the area. He cautioned the committee members, that previous plans included large funding requirements that never materialized and the offset requirements can fall to the wayside if not planned carefully.
Some Harbor Towers residents voiced their strong opposition towards the “overwhelmingly large” building at the Harbor Garage site. Several members said that none of the public benefits measure up to the negative impact that the project will have on the district. Also, some members questioned the legality of representing the project in the BRA presentation with images that suggest that the project will be built as depicted on the picture. In response, Mr. Littell denied that such an intent was present when selecting the images to be included. It is merely there just to show theoretical possibilities.
Another question was raised about the Barr Foundation’s donation to the BRA (and two other entities), which was reported in the news the same day. Whether the donation is related to the MHP? Mr. McGuinness explained that the money is for the entire Boston waterfront and at a higher level, it might be part of the Mayor’s 2030 plan rather than in a planning process.
The ongoing discussion between the BRA and the committee will continue on May 25th, at 3PM in City Hall’s Piemont Room. For more information, please visit the BRA’s site for the MHP. To read the draft plan, please visit this page.