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City Responds to Development Planning Task Force For North End Waterfront Parcels

In an effort to avoid another war after the Lewis Wharf Hotel debacle, nine North End / Waterfront condominium boards reached out to city officials in a joint letter (pdf) to address the remaining open development parcels in the neighborhood. Specifically, the letter identified areas of development concern at Commercial Wharf, Lewis Wharf, Sargent’s Wharf, and vacant lots on Atlantic Avenue and at Clark Street and Commercial Street. Representing thousands of abutting residents, the group asked the Mayor’s Office and Boston Planning and Redevelopment Agency (BPDA) to create a task force that would “achieve the necessary and delicate balance between development and the needs of our historic neighborhood.” After the flooding that occurred on January 4th, the issue of future building has taken on a broader context given the emerging risk to North End/Waterfront properties.

The BPDA’s Director, Brian Golden, responded this week in a letter (pdf) agreeing to meet with the group for a further detailed discussion. In his letter, he also included a brief history and planning status for the North End waterfront. The last North End “Harborpark” analysis dates back to the late 1980’s. The zoning that came from that process eventually led to the construction of Battery Wharf, an expanded Pilot House, new Harborwalk at Sargent’s Wharf and Chapter 91 license amnesty for existing properties that predated the Harborwalk program. Yet, other plans for Commercial Wharf, Lewis Wharf, Sargent’s Wharf and nearby lots never came to pass.

While the BPDA has been working on a new Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan for Wharf District parcels including the Harbor Garage, Hook Lobster and Long Wharf, there has been limited recent planning attention to the North End waterfront. According to Golden, existing guidelines have been “adequate” to date. However, he highlights new findings from Imagine Boston 2030 and Climate Ready Boston where future proposals will have to address the risk of 40 inches of sea-level rise anticipated by 2070.

Active projects along the North End Waterfront highlighted in the letter include the expansion of the Eliot School at 585 Commercial Street, planning for the Nazzaro Community Center (potentially in front of Mirabella Pool), recently completed Lovejoy Wharf with connections to the North End, the Connect Historic Boston cycle track and plans to redesign Langone and Puopolo Parks. As for Lewis Wharf, Golden references the State’s Dept. of Environmental Protection interpretation of existing pile-supported structures and pile fields. Finally, the BPDA letter mentions areas where Ch. 91 compliance is lacking, including the incomplete Harborwalk at Commercial Wharf.

The full text of both letters are shown below. [Top photo of North End Waterfront by Bob Forant, used with permission.]

December 11, 2017

Mayor Martin J. Walsh
City of Boston

Mr. Brian Golden
Director, Boston Planning & Development Agency

Dear Mayor Walsh and Mr. Golden,

As Boston residents representing constituents living in the North End/Waterfront neighborhood, we are writing to request your support of a community-led planning process for Boston’s downtown and North End/Waterfront. There has not been one since the Urban Renewal Plan of the 1960s, which restored the essential residential character of the area. We cannot afford to wait for developers to decide the future of our neighborhood – famous for its history and charm and home to generations of families. We respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss assembling a task force to create a development plan for the North End/Waterfront.

Today, there are multiple precious waterfront parcels under consideration for development in our neighborhood: Commercial Wharf, Lewis Wharf, Sargents Wharf, and vacant lots on Atlantic Avenue and at Clark Street and Commercial Street. The upcoming North Washington Street bridge construction and other planned developments in our area also are of great concern to those who call the North End/Waterfront home.

Our neighborhood also has real concerns about unchecked development that will create additional burdens on our already taxed infrastructure, more congestion on our already clogged roads, loss of housing stock, and adversely impact public access to the Harbor. We also are wary of the interplay between waterfront development and the problem of climate change.

As Boston prepares to review development plans in our neighborhood, the City has the opportunity to utilize the latest methods to protect the waterfront from rising tides. The City’s Climate Ready report predicts regular flooding in as little as 12 years. We do not want to see the Boston Planning and Development Agency defer vital planning responsibilities to developers.

Many of us have met with you in the past and voiced concerns about the impact that development will have on the quality of life in the North End for residents, businesses and tourists. We have additional concerns because the Department of Environmental Protection is concerned only with water-dependent uses and not with protecting the character of established neighborhoods. It has repeatedly failed to recognize the transformative public purpose that was served by the City of Boston’s Urban Renewal Plan. The Boston Planning and Development Agency’s mission is to work with residents to shape the future of each community. We need the City’s help so that the voice of the neighborhood is taken into account during the planning process. We look forward to working with you and the BPDA to develop a progressive planning process that strikes the delicate balance between development and the needs of our historic neighborhood and creates a more open and resilient waterfront for everyone to enjoy.

We ask you to help us work toward and achieve the necessary and delicate balance between development and the needs of our historic neighborhood.

We can be reached via Cheryl Delgreco and remain eager to meet with you to discuss a North End/Waterfront development task force in further detail.

Trustees of Battery Wharf Residential Condominium Association
Trustees of Burroughs Wharf Condominium Association
Trustees of Commercial Wharf East Condominium Association
Trustees of Lewis Wharf Condominium Association
Trustees of Lincoln Wharf Condominium Trust
Board of Managers of The Mariner Condominium Association
Trustees of Prince Building Condominium Association
Trustees of Union Wharf Condominium Association
Residents at 145 Commercial Street

cc:  Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Sen. Joseph Boncore, Councilor-Elect Lydia Edwards, Councilor Sal LaMattina, Councilor Michelle Wu, Councilor Michael F. Flaherty, Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, Councilor Ayanna Pressley, Neighborhood Liaison, Maria Lanza

January 17, 2018

Dear Ms. Delgreco, et al.,

Thank you for your recent letter concerning planning for the North End Waterfront; it is very encouraging to hear of the collaboration and consensus of the various property owners and residents on shared goals for this waterfront neighborhood.

The last thorough planning analysis for the North End Waterfront was done in the late 1980s with the completion of the Harborpark Municipal Harbor Plan and the adoption of Boston Zoning Article 42A Harborpark. These plans anticipated and guided transformative improvements to the North End Waterfront, including the transformation of Battery Wharf into a mixed-use development with generous public access and other public amenities, the expansion and rehabilitation of the Pilot House and new Harborwalk at Sargent’s Wharf, and the Chapter 91 amnesty licensing process that protects and promotes Harborwalk access along properties that predated the Chapter 91 program.

There has been limited recent planning attention for this area of the waterfront as the land use controls and guidelines provided in the Harborpark zoning have been adequate in guiding new projects and promoting public access.

That said, the City has recently launched various citywide plans that highlight all of Boston’s neighborhoods, including Imagine Boston 2030, Climate Ready Boston, and Go Boston 2030. The outreach and feedback through the Imagine Boston 2030 planning process well exceeded 14,000 residents who attended community workshops and responded to numerous surveys and questionnaires.

Input received through the Imagine Boston 2030 process has framed citywide opportunities for our waterfront, including creating signature new open spaces; forming networks of connected open spaces and cultural destinations; expanding connections between neighborhoods and the waterfront; strengthening and expanding waterfront housing and job centers; and developing local climate resilience plans to prepare existing and expanded neighborhoods. Climate Ready Boston has created greater public awareness of flood risks due to sea-level rise and established future flooding projections so that the City can guide new developments along the waterfront and also analyze and plan ways to modify our shoreline to prevent flood risks. Development proposals that are subject to Article 37 of the Boston Zoning Code review must also demonstrate how the project will address the risk of forty inches of sea-level rise anticipated by the year 2070.

The flooding that occurred on January 4th of this year is a reminder of the City’s current vulnerability and what is at risk as the seas continue to rise. While most of this flooding occurred within the current flood plain, it revealed additional negative impacts, including closure of public ways and flooding of public infrastructure.

While there are only a few active projects proposed along the North End Waterfront, some recent activities add context to the North End Waterfront. These include: the completion of Lovejoy Wharf, which allows for expanded Harborwalk connectivity to the North End; Connect Historic Boston; the expansion of the Eliot School at 585 Commercial Street; plans to redesign Langone and Puopolo parks; discussions focused on future plans for the Nazzaro Community Center; and the Department of Environmental Protection’s interpretation of existing pile-supported structures and pile fields.

There also remain areas where the Harborwalk is not apparent or accessible to the public and various questions regarding Chapter 91 compliance, including Commercial Wharf. The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) is in the process of surveying the entire Harborwalk to ensure that it is accessible to all of Boston’s residents and visitors.

We look forward to meeting with you in the near future to discuss these plans in more detail; please call my office (617.918.4326) at your convenience to schedule a time.


Brian P. Golden