To read SAND's earlier oral testimony to the EOEA regarding the Municipal Harbor Plan, click here.
- Secretary Robert S. Durand
- Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
- 251 Causeway St.
- Boston, MA
Dear Secretary Durand:
The Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND) is a community group based in the Fort Point neighborhood of South Boston. Our core members are Fort Point residents and business owners, working together for a number of years on issues regarding the long-term development of the South Boston Waterfront. We advocate for planning and development of the South Boston Waterfront as a vibrant, mixed-use urban neighborhood - not simply a commercial or destination district.
SAND members have significant concerns with the Municipal Harbor plan recently submitted to your office by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). We believe that there are fundamental differences between the Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP) and the South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan (PRP), the existing tideland regulations (Chapter 91) and the widely supported vision of an emerging waterfront neighborhood.
- The BRA South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan asserted that the South Boston Waterfront would be zoned prior to the enactment of a Municipal Harbor Plan.
"Once the land use and dimensional recommendations of this Plan have been thoroughly reviewed by the public, a zoning amendment will be drafted to codify the recommended use and dimensional regulations."
BRA South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan, page 106
Since the publication of the PRP in March 1999, however, the BRA has not taken any steps towards developing a comprehensive, permanent zoning framework for the district.
In the absence of permanent, comprehensive district zoning the MHP effectively serves to spot zone the Waterfront. The BRA and proponents of the Fan Pier project have framed the entire public debate regarding the MHP around the variances needed above Chapter 91 for this single project to move forward.
Consider for example, that there have been no public community presentations outside City Hall regarding the important Fort Point waterfront and Pier 4. The MHP proposes major changes to these areas without public participation. We believe that most citizens are unaware, for example, that the MHP presents significant reductions to the size of a 3.5 acre Fort Point esplanade that was a widely anticipated provision of the PRP.
- The Municipal Harbor Plan imposes a minimal standard of public and civic opportunities on the tidelands, lending primary importance to commercial development. The MHP must be superior to, or an improvement of, Chapter 91 in every regard.
- The Municipal Harbor Plan places a protective envelope around overwhelmingly commercial development proposals, offering no valid reason for its own existence other than increasing height and density beyond existing regulations.
- The commercial buildout enabled by the MHP is projected to consume an extraordinary level of environmental and transportation resources. By doing so, a buildout according to this MHP will effectively eliminate opportunities for residential, recreational parkspace and civic needs required to establish the vibrant waterfront neighborhood envisioned by the South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan.
- The Municipal Harbor Plan imposes a view of the waterfront inconsistent with nearly every preceding planning process, document and recommendation for Boston's tidelands including the BRA Seaport Public Realm Plan. Recommendations made publicly to the BRA by their own consultants at Cooper/Robertson, Mayor Menino's South Boston Waterfront Committee of 1997, SAND, the Boston Society of Architects, the Boston Harbor Association, the Conservation Law Foundation and nearly every community, urban planning and environmental advocate not directly linked to projects pressing for approvals, have been disregarded.
The Municipal Harbor Plan is inconsistent with the existing Seaport District Interim Planning Overlay District (IPOD). This IPOD was known to have been temporary, but IPODs are generally promulgated to be within range of anticipated zoning - and this IPOD was reflective of BRA discussions with the South Boston community.
- Excluding the Mayor's Office and the BRA, the leading proponents of the Municipal Harbor Plan are developers, tourism and commerce interest groups, commercial real estate advocates, hired consultants and advocacy groups that have a direct interest in the Fan Pier and Pier 4 project.
- With approval of the MHP, the EOEA and DEP will cease to have a permitting role beyond ascertaining conformance with the Plan. With this Plan, the EOEA waives rights which would ordinarily exist to protect the public interest. We believe that the EOEA must provide legislative oversight as a system of checks and balances between State and City interests. Instead, the MHP cedes these State rights to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the City agency that has control of remaining approvals through the Article 80 process. Boston City Council is limited in its power to lend significant oversight to project conformity and approvals.
Land Use / Problems and Expectations
The open space provided by this MHP at the water's edge is predominately oriented towards passive and transitory activities. With the exception of a fishing pier there are no active uses provided for, and none anticipated in the entire district. Significant open space along the water would encourage active uses.
The MHP amends the open space provisions set forth in the PRP, without any public input or agreement and without asserting any need for this reduction. No mitigation has been advanced for these reductions to the Public Realm. Many spaces have been eliminated or reduced in size, most notably an esplanade in the PRP. This esplanade provided for a critically important visual and physical connection between the Convention Center and the waterfront at the Fort Point Channel.
In the MHP, the open space has been diminished and split up into pocket parks - a contradiction because the Plan asserts that these types of spaces should be avoided. There is no opportunity for an aggregation of open space to be created from the individual offsets of lot ratios greater than 50%.
The MHP does not provide open space of the standards set by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Parks Department standards provide 5.5 acres of open parkland for every 1000 residents. Until this ratio is met in planning, no reduction of Chapter 91 open space should be permitted.
The quality of the available open space is adversely impacted by the proximity and height of adjacent buildings. The quality of the available open space is also adversely impacted by a sense of privatization which makes the public feel less welcome. In addition to considering wind and shadow impacts, these other impacts must be considered, and appropriate offsets provided.
Decisions regarding appropriate height, density and setbacks were framed over a two-year period of public meetings with the BRA and its consultants culminating with the 1999 publication of the Seaport Public Realm Plan. Heights approaching the water's edge were to be scaled down to allow for minimal shadows at the water's edge, and a broader view of the sky from the Harborwalk. SAND supports the heights, densities and setbacks as specified in this document.
The Municipal Harbor Plan varies egregiously from the waterside heights, densities and setbacks found in the Seaport District Public Realm Plan. Six of eight buildings proposed for Fan Pier will rise above 200 feet and three are above 250 feet. These heights at the water's edge are contrary to the Public Realm Plan, which asserted (page 106) that the predominant height of the district would be 150 feet and that only a few buildings in the district would approach 300 feet.
Recently, a number of Municipal Harbor Plan proponents, including former Economic Development Director Alden Raine, have become more vocal about the adequacy of greater heights at the water's edge. Mr. Raine had ample opportunity to weigh in on adequate heights and densities during the two-year discussion culminating in completion of the Seaport Public Realm Plan.
We understand that it is not in the purview of the EOEA to engage in a dialog regarding land uses. However, it is our understanding that it is in the purview of the EOEA to consider the consumption of environmental resources according to proposed land uses.
For example, by allowing commercial development to consume significant land and resources, the Municipal Harbor Plan effectively precludes the ability of the Waterfront to develop with a critical mass of residents. The Municipal Harbor plan, unlike the Public Realm Plan, shifts the burden of residential development to Wormwood and D Street areas.
The BRA has not been forthright with a discussion of residential growth.
There is no comprehensive discussion of appropriate sites for residential growth, or the concerns about heavy residential development in the immediate area being registered by Gillette. The BRA has approved a number of office renovations in the Fort Point Channel District now moving to an 80% occupancy rate by office tenants. The only residential project in Fort Point in over the past 5 years was a 120-unit conversion - presented by Gillette with a six-month legal challenge. The BRA has recently approved new parking garages and office space construction in Fort Point and only two significant parcels remain open for new development. One is owned by Gillette, the other by the US Post Office. Remaining opportunities for residential growth in areas previously identified by the BRA Public Realm Plan as primary residential districts are few.
The BRA bolsters its residential claims by indicating that they require 1/3rd of all large-scale development to be residential. The BRA does not indicate publicly that this volumetric requirement does not impose a unit count requirement - thus the Waterfront may actually have a lower residential density than any other Boston neighborhood. The Fan Pier makes such claims in meeting its housing requirement, with the collateral effect that even less housing will be affordable to even median buyers. This raises troubling issues of social and economic justice in the housing provisions within the Waterfront. The BRA has resisted advancing any method to address this problem - allowing all residential development to exclusively address affluent buyers once a 20% qualified affordability component is met.
The residential neighborhood envisioned in the PRP contained a "wide-range" of affordability and access - not just upscale residents and the select few who met income-qualification criteria for affordable units.
The BRA makes a similar land-use claim publicly by asserting that office space is not to exceed 1/3rd of large-scale projects. The BRA is careful not to indicate publicly that if developers approach the agency for approvals on a project-by-project basis, this requirement will not be imposed. Further, even though hotels and offices were specifically not intended to be primary uses for tidelands, the Municipal Harbor Plan encourages these types of developments - enabling Fan Pier to have a 10:1 ratio of office workers to residents.
Lastly, the Municipal Harbor Plan enables developers to proceed on hotels, offices, luxury condominiums and other highly commercial projects without any projection of neighborhood amenities such as school, libraries, police and fire stations. These basic neighborhood-building amenities were included in the Public Realm Plan (page 107). If the MHP moves forward without a discussion of these needs, there is not clearly an opportunity for them to evolve at a later date.
Environmental Impacts / Problems and Expectations
The additional developed square footage permitted by the MHP will increase demand on the transportation network. Under the anticipated development frameworks there will potentially be between 20,000 and 40,000 office workers who will not be able to reach their jobs during rush hour. The additional development encouraged by the MHP will only exacerbate this shortfall. Yet no mitigation for problems attributed to extensive development has been advanced in the MHP.
This problem reverberates beyond the Chapter 91 zone. Because the district is expected to evolve with pyramidal massing from the water's edge to the interior parcels, developments found suitable under this MHP will encourage developments in the inner harbor that are substantially greater than envisioned in the PRP.
Additional development means increased heating and cooling load, greater water use and wastewater generation, less water recharging to ground, more solid waste generation. As buildings become taller and floor plates grow larger it becomes less possible to provide natural daylighting or ventilation to adequately condition interior space, leading to greater energy use overall.
Many of the projects permitted will contribute stormwater runoff to CSO carrying lines. Additional built space will increase this effect with no mitigation proposed. No impacts have been calculated or acknowledged.
Tall buildings are prone to producing tunnel effects which can magnify ground level winds to the point where they are uncomfortable or dangerous to pedestrians. These winds also interfere with the growth and survival of plants and trees. No evidence is provided in the MHP to show that these effects will be reduced, especially in areas provided for public enjoyment of the Waterfront.
As compared with Chapter 91, diagrams illustrating the MHP buildout conditions show a far greater shadow impact on the open space for longer portions of the day and greater parts of the year. Because this is a north-facing waterfront, it is imperative that the maximum amount of sun be present for the longest possible time. A heavily shaded waterfront will diminish the public experience at the water's edge, particularly in Autumn and Spring.
The Municipal Harbor Plan includes a number of factual inconsistencies and ambiguities. Most of these blur distinctions between public and private responsibility. And because community advocates including SAND have brought these issues to the BRA for almost three years, we must assume that they are intentional.
The Municipal Harbor Plan allows the definition for "open space" to make no distinction between streets, sidewalks, docks, heavily landscaped areas and useable greenspace. During community discussions, however, the BRA regularly implies that a "50% open space requirement" satisfies a need for ample recreational greenspace.
The Municipal Harbor Plan makes no distinction between private property with a public easement and truly public space. There are ample examples of private impositions on so-called "areas of public accommodation" to lend concern to the lack of truly public spaces and structures. The City of Boston has failed to enforce public easements in nearly every development along Boston's waterfront, from restrooms at the Marriott Long Wharf to the Observation Room at the Boston Harbor Hotel.
The Municipal Harbor Plan allows areas with primarily commercial purpose to receive offsets as public amenities. Hotel lobbies receive offsets as "four-seasons rooms" and fee-based entertainment/cultural sites receive offsets as "civic uses".
Recently, labor unions have galvanized in support of the Municipal Harbor Plan. Labor unions believe that the MHP will bring thousands of decent construction jobs to working men and women. It is our position that labor would be better suited by a Municipal Harbor Plan that was more closely aligned with the Seaport Public Realm Plan. With the existing Municipal Harbor Plan, every proposal for the next 2-3 decades will likely be met with community opposition in dozens of Article 80 and Chapter 91 hearings. Boston's history of stops and starts is in many instances credited to a tendency of City planners to shoe-horn inappropriate projects into working neighborhoods.
If a Municipal Harbor Plan included generous provisions for public access and amenities, it is far more likely that community approvals would be eased and the construction jobs would be made available on a more predictable basis.
Additional pressures have arisen in support of the Municipal Harbor Plan. These include pressures largely aligned with the current economic cycle, for example those from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Yesterday, the Pritzker family presented an ultimatum on the Municipal Harbor Plan, threatening to walk away if the plan is not approved. The Municipal Harbor Plan is a document that will forever shape hundreds of acres of property, and it is our view that your office should not allow a business cycle's potential close to drive a discussion that will play itself out over decades to come.
In conclusion, members of the Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design ask you to reject the Municipal Harbor Plan as submitted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Approving this MHP will allow development along the waters edge that does not provide a greater public benefit than Chapter 91. The MHP is required to improve upon Chapter 91 and in spirit should reflect the South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan.
The MHP does not fulfill the neighborhood vision outlined in the Seaport Public Realm Plan nor does it protect existing public interest in the tidelands. Unfortunately, there are far too many specific problems in the text of the MHP for us to present as a checklist. We expect the BRA to consider points made by community groups and individual citizens, to redraft the plan, and to resubmit a revised version to your office.
Thank you for considering our comments.