At a SAND meeting on January 12th, the Fan Pier planning team of Urban Strategies and Spaulding and Slye presented an early preview of design concepts for the 20 acre Fan Pier parcel. The Pritzker family, owners of the Fan Pier parcel, has hired the planning strategists to develop a comprehensive vision for their property and are expected to be the first Seaport District property holders (other than Massport) to move forward with extensive development.
Although the design concepts presented on January 12th were deemed "preliminary" and will be firmed up after a second round of community workshops in February, Ken Greenberg of Urban Strategies was able to lay out a clear vision of the firm's expectations in terms of development goals and the public realm.
The presentation divided Fan Pier into a set of square blocks, with the Fort Point Channel neighborhood grid (Sleeper, Pittsburgh, etc.) extended through the waterfront parcel. Three cross streets parallel to Old Northern avenue divide Fan Pier from east to west, with one cross street extending from the Federal Courthouse across to Pier 4.
This grid breaks Fan Pier into 8 development parcels (with additional parcels remaining for civic and cultural sites). These development parcels would be divided among three office projects (along Old Northern Ave.), two hotels (one along Old Northern Ave and one closer to the water's edge), and three residential projects. Urban Strategies also represented an interest in accommodating moderate live/work units in one of the office projects.
Among Urban Strategies' ideas to bring people through the property to the waterfront, the most prominent was a series of enclosed passageways extending at angles from Old Northern Avenue through the development parcels to the Harbor.
Public and civic space presented included a park fronting on the edge of Fan Pier, roughly 100 feet in width and 300 feet in length. This park would be a partial extension of the existing park at the edge of the Federal Courthouse. A second parcel designated for open space and/or civic space was reserved between the Fan Pier Cove and the two office projects bordering Old Northern Ave. Other public/civic spaces envisioned a stepped seating area overlooking the cove and a reflecting pool (with potential for ice-skating). Lastly, a seawall, constructed to control the impacts of heavy seas on the cove, would enable the planners to include a small marina and a smaller civic space or theatre rotunda at the end of the seawall.
Although Urban Strategies did not present heights or vertical renderings, Spaulding & Slye representative Kyle Warwick noted that the development goal of 3 million square feet could be accommodated within the proposed concepts and that the actual floor-area-ratio (FAR) densities would be presented in early February. Mr. Warwick mentioned that a height exception to the BRA Master Plan (known as a PDA) might be sought for the entire parcel in order to allow for some development to exceed the 150 foot height limit. Note: It has been reported that BRA and Spaulding & Slye are negotiating a number of issues, from heights to street layout, so the BRA Master Plan and the Urban Strategy's plan will be congruous upon their respective publications.
Urban Strategies and Spaulding & Slye outlined a number of options to mitigate traffic. All parking spaces would be below grade (currently estimated at 2600 spaces). Streets would be designed to limit speeds within the Fan Pier area (not including Old Northern Avenue). Pedestrian activity and biking would be a first priority, especially focused on the Harbor and cove.
Mr. Greenberg fielded questions and comments from a number of attendees. A broad summary of these follows:
Regarding the affordable housing crisis in South Boston, linkage will be negotiated as developments come online and affordable housing within the existing South Boston community may be created through these negotiations.
Regarding a need for contiguous open space (rather than a distribution of open space areas) and a destination cultural attraction, Urban Strategies will be focusing on this issue in the February community workshops.
Regarding the ability of the residential projects to include a range of affordabilities, Urban Strategies is considering the inclusion of a number of non-luxury units of live/work space as part of one of the office projects.
Regarding the potential inability of the planned number of residential units (approximately 450) to support smaller, local retail (i.e. food markets, etc.) rather than exclusively tourist-related retail (i.e. souvenir shops, etc.), Urban Strategies indicated that the area must not be considered an enclave of development, it must be considered in the context of a greater South Boston community being developed around it and that it will only be successful if it serves the entire community.
Other questions and comments reflected interests in building heights and architectures, shadow projections on open space and the harbor, relationship with the Convention Center and abutting properties, effects of weather on the project.
SAND members (and those in attendance) have not yet weighed in on the Fan Pier preview presentation.
In our quest to support "neighborhood" goals in the Seaport District development dialog, we are appreciative of the fact that Urban Strategies has been willing to engage all participants in the Fan Pier dialog -- generously accepting invitations and seeking to address a wide number of South Boston residents and waterfront constituents. The design concepts, as clearly demonstrated by audience comments during the meeting, represent a major improvement over past proposals. With a number of thoughtful additions for the benefit of pedestrians and the neighboring South Boston community, Urban Strategies should be commended for not only listening, but for adopting new ideas in order to move the project forward.
SAND also appreciates the attendance of McCourt Company representatives at this Fan Pier preview, and are optimistic about the potential for seamless integration of ideas between properties including the McCourt and Athanas/Karp parcels.
Clearly, there are elements of the previewed plan that will require further consideration. Recreational open space, affordable housing (including on-site mixed affordability), a dedication to truly "public" passages, streets and civic areas, civic destination(s), architecture, topology and a plan for all area residents and visitors to share in the waterfront are all critical components of a developing South Boston Seaport District community. These issues must certainly be given due attention at the February Fan Pier workshops and beyond.
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