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Wharf District Residents Express Frustrations with Municipal Harbor Plan Revisions

Harbor Towers Garage Committee Chairman Lee Kozol represented the East India Row Harbor Towers residents when he spoke out against the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP) and its latest supplement at the Wharf District council meeting on Tuesday evening.

Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Waterfront Planning at the BPDA presents the MHP supplement to over 100 attendees. Photo credit: Joanne Hayes-Rines

The unified response by waterfront neighbors came after a presentation by Rich McGuinness of the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA). The latest supplement to the MHP provides additional protections to the New England qauarium – ensuring protection of their water-dependent uses, parking needs, and financial stability. It also increases the offsets going to the aquarium’s Blueway plan from $5 million to $10 million, and increases the Hook Wharf development offsets from $1.5 million to $4 million going to the new park at the Chart House parking lot. Read more about the supplement here.

In representing Harbor Towers, Kozol reminded the crowd that the residents overwhelmingly support the redevelopment of the garage. Their concerns are about the height, volume and footprint that would be allowed for the development. The allowance for a 600-foot tower, 900,000 square feet, is three to four times what the guidelines describe under Chapter 91, which acts like zoning – regulating building height, water dependent usage, and coverage of filled tidelands and other waterways in Massachusetts. Kozol says Harbor Tower residents have written to the Boston Planning & Development Agency asking what the rationale is for the size, but have not received a response.

Lee Kozol and Diane Rubin address the Wharf District Council and community members.

Kozol also raised questions about the $10 million of offsets to go to the aquarium based on the new MHP supplement. This is only 1% of the project predicted to cost $1 billion. The residents argue this is not enough.

The original MHP promised 50% open space and reserved the rights of Harbor Towers to analyze any projects. But then, Kozol argues, a deal was struck that protected the aquarium on financial losses and parking, and also made it possible to reduce the 50% of open space by 10% or more.

The Harbor Towers residents are happy the needs of the aquarium will be met, but are disappointed in the lack of their own protection in the MHP supplement. Several hundred of the residents park in that garage and are not being indemnified for their loss of parking. There are also no details ensuring East India Row won’t become clogged with traffic, or about the amorphous open space. There is also no protection against building finishes and noise abatements.

Kozol concluded with the statement that the supplement provides no significant changes for the benefit or protection of Harbor Tower residents. He said these problems can be put to rest if an agreement is made with the developer of the garage, but until then the Harbor Tower residents do not support the plan.

Legal councilor Diane Rubin, representing the Harbor Towers, backed Kozol stating her comparison of the offsets in this plan to those of other developments on Boston Harbor prove this plan to be “out of the realm of anything else on the Harbor.” Rubin went on to emphasize that the Harbor Towers are an abutter to the garage parcel, just like the aquarium, but they get none of the same protections.

Richard Koch, representing the InterContinental, speaks to the crowd.

Richard Koch, representative for the InterContinental on Atlantic Avenue, expressed frustrations over a lack of information. He said the MHP and supplement do not offer a complete plan, with concerns about traffic and sea level rise going unanswered. Koch said the InterContinental is opposed because they don’t know enough, particularly about the Hook building property and what may be developed on that site.

Representative Aaron Michlewitz attended the meeting, saying he looked forward to hearing more from the audience and waterfront residents. District 2 City Councilor Ed Flynn also gave remarks, stating he wants to be sure residents’ voices are heard.

Richard Dimino, President and CEO of A Better City, said they are pleased that at least a framework has been set to address issues related to the aquarium, which is a member of A Better City. He stated the City and aquarium have moved the needle considerably on the development review process. He thanked the efforts of the Boston Planning & Development Agency, and emphasized the importance of the wharf district for businesses, in addition to local residents. He built morale with the attendees, telling them the MHP creates a framework for the review process, and that he has always seen community engagement projects improve as the process continues.

Bruce Carlisle, Director at the Office of Coastal Zone Management, reminded the council and audience of the next steps in this process. The MHP will remain under State review and there will be a public comment period, ending April 9th. Twenty-one days after this period ends, the Secretary must announce a decision which could be to approve entirely, approve with conditions, or deny entirely. Comments can be submitted here.

One Reply to “Wharf District Residents Express Frustrations with Municipal Harbor Plan Revisions

  1. “(Richard Dimino, President and CEO of A Better City) built morale with the attendees, telling them the MHP creates a framework for the review process, and that he has always seen community engagement projects improve as the process continues.” If by the “review process,” Mr. Dimino means the current MHP review process, it ends on April 9, and there isn’t much time left for “community engagement” before the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs approves or denies the BRA’s MHP. This after nearly a year of no public process while the BRA and Mr. Chiofaro worked a deal with the Aquarium. If by the “review process,” Mr. Dimino means the many individual development project reviews that will, over many years, follow approval of this MHP (with the first likely being the Harbor Garage Tower), those reviews will be handled mostly by the BRA. MHPs open the door to developments, of course, but also often to developments requiring and getting MHP amendments, which the BRA always supports. One only needs to compare BRA approved development in other MHP areas, such as our own North End/Waterfront, to the allowances, limitations and goals of their respective MHPs (there’s little comparison). A key goal of the North End/Waterfront’s MHP was affordability in public access and accommodation, including housing. The only major project envisioned in the NE/W MHP not built is an affordable housing development at Sargents Wharf. Probably too late now, given the floodwaters that will continue to wash over that wharf. Mr. Koch is right to point out that the BRA’s proposed Downtown MHP ignores traffic and climate change/sea level rise concerns. It also gives short shrift to the shadow the Tower will cast over public parkland and recreational waters.

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