November 1, 1999
In the summer of 1999, the BRA appointed a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to help develop a South Boston and East Boston Municipal Harbor Plan -- with a a legislative agenda to overide existing state regulations for coastal development (Chapter 91). While a number of developers sit on the planning panel, all South Boston community groups including SAND were excluded from direct participation on the CAC. SAND members have been sitting in on the public hearings as whenever possible.
The following notes reflect the editorial-style opinions of a SAND member who attended last week's Municipal Harbor Plan meeting. These notes are presented here to record that member's impressions of the Municipal Harbor Plan process -- one that is attempting to create a standard for waterfront development while oddly encouraging developers to request special substitutions for any proposals currently on the drawing board.
The SAND member who wrote these notes approved their archival and publication.
To learn more about the Municipal Harbor Plan process, click here to visit the SAND calendar.
The proponent [Forest City Enterprises] presented
the Old Northern Avenue Bridge/mall proposal to the CAC to ask that
"substitutions" be built into the MHP
tailored to the proposal. In fact, now that I see it, this
seems to be the main purpose (at least, as intended by the BRA) of the CAC:
to hear and approve all developers' proposals and write them into the MHP.
That's typical for planning in Boston...It was done for the Pritzker
proposal in the Request for Scope submitted by the BRA, and now the BRA
wants to do it for everyone else. Not much point in having a MHP if you do
that. I thought the point was to make general principles and guidelines and
dimensional envelopes, etc, so later on, specific proposals could be
evaluated. I'm confused.
Also, it was revealed that the South Station air rights tower proponents
have snuck into the imminently-to-be-passed, like next week, Transportation
Bond Bill a little-known rider exempting that whole behemoth development
from Chapter 91 LEGISLATIVELY. A well-respected Harbor advocate
[name witheld] said, that undermines the whole MHP
and CAC process, cause anyone can just end-run it by legislation (which, by
the way, is how the BRA end-ran the state law separationg planning from
redevelopment 40 years ago). Very serious problem here.
Anyway, RJ Lyman, Forest City's attorney (and former MEPA director) stated
that all they need is a setback variance, because their footprint is bigger
than the Bridge's, so the measuring line should start at theirs rather than
what's required, which is the original Bridge outline (I think that's the
argument). He said they have the 50% open space, which I would have to
measure to understand because it doesn't look it on its face. And THEN, he
said, the CAC should be nice to the proponent, because as-of-right, the
Chapter 91 regs would allow many more thousands of square feet than he is
proposing! He had prepared this diagram showing the bridge with all the Ch
91 setbacks, as if it were a regular development parcel. HE IS APPLYING THE
REGS FOR BUILDING ON THE WATERFRONT LAND AND PIERS
TO THE BRIDGE! AND NOW, WE OWE HIM SQUARE FOOTAGE!!!
So the public is getting a bargain and should
be grateful! A CAC member raised the question, how did we arrive at the
point where the regs apply to bridges, and [one CAC member] said with a pretty
straight face, maybe we need to estimate the buildout if all the bridges
became building sites (!) and Linda Haar (of the BRA) said, no that would be a silly
exercise because this won't set any big precedent, and no one is planning to
build on other existing bridges, and only one new ped bridge is being
contemplated in the Channel (no one mentioned the Ponte Vecchio as a
possible model for that!) -- so Linda wanted the CAC to take this
legal-shmegal argument seriously and approve the request, obviously. And
knowing the BRA, this will happen unless someone gets a grip. Vivien Li and
Valerie Burns and Stephanie Pollak and that other person who asked how come
development regs suddenly apply to what started out as a bridge preservation
project, were valiant. How can we support them, and become more involved in
the MHP/CAC activities?
Also, Lyman wouldn't address Jamy Buchanan's [waterfront planning advocate,
occasional counsel for the Barking Crab] question about the fact that
the bridge still (though it would have a 16' high boat pass span section)
would not accommodate masted boats, which can't have any constraint and
require an openable bridge, to get into Barking Crab's hurricane shelter.
He just said, I'll talk to you later about it.
Also, Steve Karp's Pier 4 plan was presented. Just like Pritzker, huge;
end-of-pier boutique hotel, exclusive "very expensive" condos, office tower,
back-land hotel tower. The whole seaport will become north Miami Beach.
Your comments as a visitor to the SAND website would be appreciated and forwarded for discussion.