''Boston is now in the lowest quartile of metropolitan areas in terms of the number of building permits issued for new housing, relative to the existing housing stock."

-- Raven Saks, Harvard University, The Boston Globe 1/30/05

August 2006

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has quietly reduced its housing projections for Fort Point, from a stated goal of 2500 units (all BRA plans from 2001-2005) to a newly stated goal of 2000-2300 units (inserted into the newly published 100 Acre Plan Final Draft). Click here for more info on these and other 11th hour changes to the Waterfront Master Plan.


The Boston Redevelopment Authority is approving fewer than half of the total number of residential units targeted as a goal in the agency’s South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan. Few locations remain to make up for an estimated shortfall of between 2,000-5,000 residential units.

Contributing in part to the shortfall, only 625 units were approved for Fan Pier (21 acres, 30 housing units per acre), and only 200 units were approved on Pier IV (9.5 acres, 21 housing units per acre). Although residential development must comprise a minimum of 33% of all large Waterfront projects, BRA planners have overwhelmingly approved the creation of ‘boutique’ residential suites with an average unit size exceeding 1500 square feet — 150% larger than anticipated in both the Seaport Public Realm Plan and the BRA’s 1998 study of Waterfront housing demand. This has resulted in the creation of far fewer units than deemed critical to the success of the Waterfront by the BRA’s urban planning consultants.

As envisioned by Cooper, Robertson & Partners — the planning team hired by the BRA to develop the Seaport Public Realm Plan, with conclusions supported by the Boston Society of Architects, thousands of housing units would be of vital importance for the South Boston Waterfront to develop as an urban neighborhood. The BRA's own South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan called for 5,000 to 8,000 residential units. A minimum build to support a supermarket, according to the BRA plan, would require 2,500 residential units south of Summer Street and 2,500 residential units north of Summer Street.

In 1998, the Boston Society of Architects called for the “threshold residential development that generates critical mass of residents (minimum of 10-15, 000 residents, 6000 dwelling units...mix of housing types and range of affordability spread through the District).” The BSA estimate was cited in comments from SAND to the BRA in January 2000.

As a Boston Globe columnist noted in 1999, “If the Pritzkers were to build housing in proportion to their site [Fan Pier], they would be proposing 1,000 units.” In the SAND comment letter regarding Fan Pier — filed with the BRA prior to the agency’s approval of the 2.8 million square foot project, our group estimated that “the Fan Pier proposal would have to provide 1100 - 1300 residential units to achieve the desired critical mass.” Over two years later, The Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Boston Zoning Commission approved the project with 625 residential units.

Negative impacts on Boston employment, attributed to the housing shortfall, are measurable. A “Housing Pressure Index” on the South Boston Waterfront, extrapolated from the production of 3,920 residential units, will approach 70%. In other words, citing the BRA’s own 1998 housing demand study, 70% of new employees in the South Boston Waterfront wishing to live in Boston will be forced to live in other neighborhoods. According to this study, a Housing Pressure Index of 0% would have been achieved with the production of 8,000 housing units.

Property (as of 1/31/05)
(SB Waterfront, Fort Point)

Residential Units
(click to view source)

Fan Pier 625 approved, status: parking lot
Pier IV 200 in final approvals
McCourt Parcels tbd* plans proposed, not in approval stage, status: parking lot
Channel Center 325 approved, status: construction nearing completion
Midway Studios 89 approved, status: in construction
Boston Wharf Co.

/Archon Group

attending "100-acres" planning meetings

UPDATE:August 2005
Boston Wharf Co. sells all remaining properties to Archon Group.

Berkeley Investments tbd* recent purchase, at BRA for early approvals
HDS Mansur none (leased, office) recent purchase, long-term office lease signed
Massport Core Block / Waterside Place 210 approved, limited BRA oversight
Massport / Boston Harbor Residences 465 approved, limited BRA oversight
Cathartes / 371-401 D Street 650 approved, status: none
Gillette Co.
(undeveloped parcels)

at BRA for early approvals,
attending "100-acres" planning meetings,
company recently sold to P&G,
status: parking lot

U.S. Postal Service
(undeveloped parcels)

at BRA for early approvals,
attending "100-acres" planning meetings,
status: parking lot

pre-existing 356 249 A St. (42), Mondo Condo (20), Fort Point Place (117), 300 Summer St. (47), Dockside Place (88), 437 D Street (42)
    *tbd (to be determined) -- these properties or undeveloped parcels listed above remain in 2005 as the only properties expected to accommodate some additional new residential construction or redevelopment.

Total Residential Units Possible -- including existing, approved and proposed -- as of January 1, 2005 on the South Boston Waterfront and Fort Point

2,920 units

Total residential units called for in the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan of 1999 -- the culmination of hundreds of Citywide urban planning meetings between 1997 and 1999. +5,000-8,000 units  

Total residential units called for in the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s 1998 planning document entitled, “Effects of Seaport Development on Housing Demand in South Boston” in order to meet anticipated demand from an influx of new workers, while helping stabilize the South Boston community.

+8,000-10,000 units


Housing Shortfall (using 1999 PRP)
Housing Shortfall (using 1998 ESD)

(2,080 - 5,080 units)
(5,080 - 7,080 units)

As shown in the table above, 2,920 residential units are either existing or approved for construction on the South Boston Waterfront. Allowing for a best-case addition of 1,500 residential conversions and new construction on properties remaining to be developed (Archon, Berkeley Investments, Gillette Co., U.S. Postal Service, McCourt Co.), only 4,420 residential units would now be possible on the 1000-acre Waterfront.

In summary, the South Boston Waterfront will no longer be able to achieve a critical mass of residential units, falling short by at least 2,080 units according to the projections of BRA consultants. Furthermore, using the BRA's internal Housing Pressure Index, the table above demonstrates that the housing shortfall will displace 70% of all new South Boston Waterfront employees, forcing these employees to live in other neighborhoods and to commute to work.

The South Boston Waterfront housing shortfall, with statistics confirmed using two and three sources as shown above, has not been refuted by the BRA.

Of course, the Boston Redevelopment Authority can respond that the housing shortfall can be adjusted by simply adding more density to the existing 1000 Acre Seaport mega-blocks to fulfill housing numbers. Unfortunately, due to factors out of the BRA's control, including height restrictions imposed by Massport and resource limitations such as Silver Line capacity, Seaport density totals are already tapped out in full build of the 1998 PRP. But those factors certainly won't prevent the BRA from embarking on a third, fourth or fifth attempt at a Seaport Master Plan -- the Boston Globe and area stakeholders are always willing to buy into a glossy urban plan of "New Boston".

UPDATE 3/24/08 (regarding the Gale International site)

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is initiating a planning effort for the 23-Acre Seaport tract owned by Gale International, Morgan Stanley and WS Development (formerly known as the McCourt Parcels).

This project seeks the immediate approval of large blocks of office and hotel projects, based only on a promise of a substantial number housing units to develop on all remaining tracts in future phases. According to this scheme, more than 2,400 units of housing will eventually materialize on all vacant parcels at some future date, even if economic conditions at that later date favor office, hotel and other commercial projects. Of course, this theory is problematic because its entire premise is based on a flawed assumption that a future property owner would somehow be forced to sit on vacant parcels until the economy favored completion of the housing numbers -- just to fulfill a bargain from today's generation of planners.

Although Seaport developers are required to plan for a 1/3rd housing component by a widely publicized executive order, no actual Seaport housing development is required according to a set timeline, or required to occur concurrent with approved projects. No residential units are underway on the abutting Fan Pier, and only 625 units were approved for all future phases of the 21 acre tract.

Your comments as a visitor to the SAND website would be appreciated and forwarded for discussion.