Real Estate

Still 600 Feet, but More Open Space at Harbor Garage Tops Waterfront Plan Changes

Municipal Harbor Plan for Boston’s Downtown Waterfront. The planning area consists of 26 parcels and is bounded to the west by Atlantic Avenue and the Rose Kennedy Greenway; to the east by the Inner Harbor and Fort Point Channel; to the north by Christopher Columbus Park; and to the south by Evelyn Moakley Bridge. (BPDA)

Last minute revisions were released Tuesday to the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan draft by the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA, formerly the BRA). The BPDA Board is expected to approve the plan on February 9th so it can go to State review. The 11th hour revisions are substantial, an effort to incorporate public comments and guidance from the State, said BPDA senior planner, Chris Busch, in an email to stakeholders.

Harbor Garage site plan (MHP)

Harbor Garage Site

The open space requirement at the Harbor Garage site has been increased to 50% of lot coverage from 30% in an prior draft. The height and massing remain the same as previously proposed, 600′ tall and 900,000 square feet capacity. The 50% Chapter 91-compliant open space requirement was highly sought after by advocates at meetings, especially from the abutting New England Aquarium and Harbor Tower residents. However, the 600′ tower height could still be a sticking point for abutters. (Harbor Garage comment letters can be viewed here.) The 50% open space, Chapter 91 standard can be met with modest canopies, awnings and covers that can create a more comfortable environment for the public.

The 900,000 square foot requirement remains smaller than the 1.3 million sq. ft. plan originally proposed by the owners (Chiofaro Company and Prudential) that included an open-roof garden/activity area in the center of two towers. The BPDA documents show potential build-out scenarios and the mixes of uses for the Harbor Garage site including residential, commercial and office.

Mitigation for the Harbor Garage site includes conversion of Chart House Parking Lot and renovation of Old Atlantic Avenue for public open space. Also included is the renovation of Central Wharf using plans by the New England Aquarium for public open space, removal of the IMAX theater and the renovation of BRA property between the harbor and existing garage site. Chapter 91 license fees will be used to fund waterfront programming, maintain open spaces, and support water transportation throughout the Inner Harbor and to the Boston Harbor Islands.

Hook Lobster

The Hook Wharf site, the temporary home of the James Hook Lobster Company, will be replaced with a new structure up to 305 feet tall.

Hook Wharf is the only development site receiving 70% lot coverage (i.e., 30% open space, lower than the 50% required by Chapter 91). The allowance for Hook Wharf applies only for building podiums up to 55 feet for ground floor public facilities of accommodation, water-dependent uses or cultural facilities.  This substitution would also include fixed awnings/canopies and building overhang.

The Hook Wharf public benefits will prioritize the HarborWalk connection to 470 Atlantic, watersheet activation, and Northern Avenue Bridge. Additional offsets will include the expansion of a publicly accessible deck to connect Moakley Bridge sidewalk with the Hook Wharf HarborWalk and building of interior/exterior Special Public Destination Facility.

Long Wharf

The Long Wharf Marriott is no longer proposing any additions for retail/restaurant use. The BPDA said Marriott representatives are not certain of the economic feasibility of new building additions for retail and restaurant use and subsurface conditions on the south side may limit building additions as well. The decision not to build out Long Wharf may also have been swayed by the concerns of the National Park Service, who has successfully argued in court against development at Long Wharf Park.

New England Aquarium Operations

There will be a Memorandum of Understanding between the City, New England Aquarium, and Harbor Garage developer to ensure the financial and operational viability of Aquarium throughout the construction process. Coordination is also provided for the “Blueway” concept.

Area-Wide Heights

A previous provision of an area-wide 200-feet height substitution was removed for new buildings, other than the Harbor Garage and Hook Wharf sites.  The area-wide height substitution of 30-feet or two additional floors remains to accommodate flood adaptation measures on ground floor.

Overall Impacts

The total lot coverage or building footprint of the entire planning area would decrease slightly (39% to 37%) whereas publicly accessible open space similarly increases from 52% to 54%. Private open space area that is not publicly accessible remains at approximately 8%.

The BPDA estimates over $11.5 million will come from the projects for offsite investments in public realm and watersheet activation infrastructure.  The projects will also support a $500,000 design and use planning process that will provide guidance for new and enhanced public realm including conversion of the Chart House parking lot to open space and coordinating with the New England Aquarium’s “Blueway”.

An initial reaction from Boston Harbor Now, the waterfront and Harbor Islands advocacy group, seemed complimentary of the latest changes.

“This new document clearly addresses climate resilience and recognizes this stretch of the waterfront as the central gateway to Boston Harbor and the Islands.  The mitigation funding is a good beginning given the scope and scale of the private development and the need for comparable public benefit,” said Kathy Abbott, President of Boston Harbor Now.

From April 2013, through October 2016, the BPDA held a total of 40 public meetings with its Advisory Committee. View our previous posts on the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan.