Commercial Wharf East Condo Assoc. Lawyer Explains Legislation to Preserve First-Floor Private Uses

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Members of the Commercial Wharf East Condominium Association (CWECA) are asking community members to support legislation proposed by State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz to preserve the 40-year grandfathered uses of Commercial Wharf that would allow unit owners to continue living in their first-floor homes.

CWECA’s lawyer Bill Zucker spoke at the October North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) meeting to explain the current situation and the legislation that is being pursued. Watch the video above and follow along with this summary.

(1:05) The legislation is addressed to the grandfathered status of the Commercial Wharf building. That status came into being in the late 1970s as part of a city program to revitalize this area, specifically the wharves, and turn the area into primarily residential units.

(2:40) The existing uses have always been primarily residential with some commercial. If there is a change in use, the State‚Äôs Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has the power to force everyone on the first floor of Commercial Wharf to leave because all of Commercial Wharf would have to become a facility of public accommodation.

(3:33) This legislation would preserve the existing situation which is a mix of commercial and residential.

(3:45) How did this predicament come to be? In 2004 a private developer bought up 12 units and converted them from commercial to residential. These are the units that DEP is relying on to say this is a change in use. This was brought to DEP’s attention back in 2004 and DEP issued a minor modification that found this was an insignificant deviation and it was permitted. The deeds for these units were then changed so they could only be used as residential units going forward.

Questions from the audience begin at 5:12.

One person asked how DEP can change their mind after allowing the deviation in 2004. Zucker responded that DEP claims the modification is non-binding.

(6:18) One person asked, if this legislation passes, and someone moves out of their first floor residential unit, can someone else buy it as residential? Zucker said, “Yes, absolutely.” The person then asked what if you’re a commercial owner on the first floor and you sell your business, does it have to stay commercial or can it become residential? Zucker clarified that, what is permitted on Commercial Wharf on the first and second floor, and is written into the deeds, is that it can be used interchangeably; however, these 12 units that were converted to residential can only be residential.

(8:17) Zucker clarified that there is no Chapter 91 license because historic uses were recognized to remain when DEP changed their regulations. The DEP issued a minor modification that said Commercial Wharf didn’t need to apply for a Chapter 91 license.

The legislation is coming to a public hearing at the State House on October 29. The time is still to be determined.

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