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Downtown Municipal Harbor Plan Zoning Meeting Brings Crowd and Debate

It was an impressive turnout at Monday evening’s public meeting for Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan zoning amendments with continuing debate regarding the controversial regulations. Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Climate Change and Environmental Planning at the Boston Planning & Development Agency delivered a presentation with an update on current affairs in relation to BPDA’s efforts to meet the demands of climate resiliency.

Of course, no meeting of this nature would be complete without a robust Q&A session which acted as a forum for debate from a multitude of perspectives. The Harbor Towers Condominium and Conservation Law Foundation have separately filed lawsuits questioning the legality of the proposed MHP. As proposed, the MHP would allow zoning for significant tower developments along the waterfront, including the 600′ Harbor Garage site by the Chiofaro Company.

Joanne Hayes-Rines, a resident at Harbor Towers, asked what is being done to address the detrimental effect of traffic congestion along with a host of other issues and inconveniences. “At this point, what is said to be solvable is laughable, since it seems as though no one is doing anything about this.” This provoked an extensive discussion not only on traffic, but on how all this ties into one of the main missions of the MHP: to deal with the Harbor Garage site.

Another question dealt with the effect of carbon emissions, which led to asking whether or not the BPDA had taken parking into consideration. Building on this point, it was asked if independent studies had been undertaken. An analysis has been conducted, per the BPDA, and better carbon reduction policies are currently being looked at.

Attendees included Councilor Lydia Edwards, Chris Busch and Kennan Rhyne from BPDA, representatives from Save The Harbor / Save The Bay, residents from The Harbor Towers, representatives from FOCCP, representatives from NEWRA, and Wharf District Council members. The full agenda can be found here, and the presentation can be accessed here.

The proposed use of skywalks/skybridges, such as those currently in operation in Minnesota was put forth for consideration by Tani Marinovich from Save The Harbor / Save The Bay, specifically asking whether the use of these structures would help with flooding events was asked. Due to the policy of the Fire Department, Police Department and EMS not permitting residents to shelter in place during such climactic episodes, it was the opinion of BPDA that utilizing skywalks/skybridges would not be advisable, especially compared to what can be deployed alternatively.

Victor Brogna asked a question centered around the “Definition of Building Heights” located at the top of page 3 from the Summary of Proposed Amendments to Article 42A: “According to the following, building height would be measured from the higher design flood elevation level, rather than from existing grade. What level is that measured by 20 years, 30 years, or 50 years out and, where do you find it?” McGuinness responded with: “It’s the 2070 level” and referred Mr. Brogna to Article 37. Article 37 can be accessed here.

Next, concerns were raised regarding the impact climate-related floods would have on utilities, whether discussions were being held in this respect to address this need as well as protecting vulnerable assets such as transportation facilities (subway stations, etc.). MBTA/MassDot are using the same models and metrics as BPDA in preparing for and dealing with potential storm scenarios.

Additional questions dealt with what kinds of public/private partnerships have been explored, how to make both climate design guidelines and sensible preservation align, and unlocking resilient strategies. Positive feedback was given for progress achieved so far, with anticipation for the next phase of the process from Mr.Bruce Berman of Save The Harbor / Save The Bay.

A final notice is that the BPDA will be hosting Open Office Hours from 9-5PM next Monday, the 19th of August. Additionally, Climate Ready Boston will be at the Wharf District Council meeting next Tuesday, the 20th of August from 5-7PM in the Norman Leventhal Center at 30 Rowes Wharf. A summary of their proposed agenda can be found here.

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