SAND has filed the following comments to address a Draft Environmental Impact Report submitted by the Fan Pier Land Company for approvals of its Fan Pier project.
Mr. Bob Durand, Secretary
- Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
- Causeway Street
- Boston, MA
- re: Fan Pier Development, DEIR/DPIR
MEPA Unit, Ms Janet Hutchins
Dear Mr. Durand,
The Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND) is heartened to see that several changes which we had advocated, and those of others we have discussed this project with, have been adopted and included in this filing. However, we cannot help but note that the major objections which we have had from the outset continue to be present and unadvised. It is our considered opinion that this project, as it currently stands is unacceptable and should not be approved. Our concerns will be enumerated later in these comments, but the critical issues are these:
The project is too large, approaches too close to the harbor,
Affords too little opportunity for gathering and active recreation near the harbor,
Building height is too large close to the water,
Building setbacks are insufficient,
Insufficient residential numbers and diversity will be attained,
The public realm is privatized and slighted.
These concerns can be satisfactorily addressed and a viable development may proceed, but only with substantial reductions in mass and reconfiguration/elimination of several buildings. We are frankly astonished that a project this egregious, larger than its initial filing, has advanced so far through the regulatory process. While several gestures have been made towards public necessities, they are ultimately attributable to the development initiative and not any public mindedness, and the value of those gestures is in no way commensurate with the economic value that will be created for the proponent.
The Fan Pier Development has been made viable by the some $20 billion dollars of public investments made over the past fifteen years. Without efforts such as the Deer Island Treatment Plant or the Central Artery/Tunnel Project this area would still be isolated and unappreciated. It is clear to all observers that the preeminent location on the South Boston Waterfront is Fan Pier. There are no other non-maritime areas on the Waterfront which afford such a superb man-made location for accessing and appreciating and using Boston Harbor. The Fan Pier Land Company understands this fully, proposing that 15 percent of the total new development in the district be sited on 2 percent of the land area. What has not been clear is how the public, which permitted the original creation of the land and is footing the bill for the myriad infrastructure improvements that make this possible, will benefit commensurately from these wise investments.
The natural advantages of this site can best be leveraged for public benefit by providing substantial public open space against the Harbor. The depth of the proposed park is too shallow to accept activities other than a few passive and highly structured ones. The historic seawall should be retained in its entirety and repaired as needed. The proposed tidal pool complex, while intriguing, is not founded on biological viability, historic conditions within the Harbor, or able to provide substantial space for the public. As with the previously proposed reflecting pool, it is an attractive, expensive notion, which substantially reduces the usable area which the public might expect to be able to use.
As we look at the remainder of what passes for open space, we note that fully one-third is made up of roadways and streets, while only one-sixth is legitimate green space. When all sidewalks and walks are counted the 'public' space is still less than two-thirds of the total. The 1,000 some residents anticipated will make up something over a tenth of the districts total, but nowhere near a tenth of the needed open space. This falls about thirty percent below any acceptable figure. Bringing the Federal Courthouse's open space into the equation is illustrative, but should be permitted to factor into consideration of this project providing for its own needs.
At a recent Boston City Council Hearing on this development, Councilors began talking about the need to count 'real open space', removing roadways and sidewalks from calculations of what should be considered parklands needed for residents. The open space needs of the 1,000 hotel guests, 5,000 some employees, and other visiting users have not been accounted for and provided for.
SAND calls for the elimination of Buildings C and D and the incorporation of their programs as substitution for office space in other buildings. There is no way that appropriate open space can be had on this site if those buildings are constructed. Contrary to some some arguments being made in the press there is no danger of excess open space at this site, and certainly not at the anticipated levels of density and occupancy. One of the signal virtues of the recent filing by the McCourt Company was to demonstrate what could be achieved if buildings C and D were to be removed. This is somewhat similar to earlier work produced independently by SAND and the Boston Society of Architects (BSA). While not producing a large park, smaller than Columbus Park in the North End, it would provide for an appropriate and graceful extension of the Court House park.
Beyond discussion of the amount of space is the equally important issue of the quality and use of the space. When we compare between illustrations it becomes obvious that market carts will outnumber benches and that 'Lookout Point' is auxiliary to a cafe. SAND is heartily in favor of commercial uses and various functions being located against the water and on Fan Street and Pier Street, but we see the lack of proportionality and the need to provide substantive, substantial areas that are non-commercial and unprogrammed, and simply provided for the use of public without a retail focus. There is no indication of any provision for active uses, no basketball or handball courts, not even frisbee or kite flying areas. In short, the bulk of the green space seems reduced to the role of ornamental forecourt to the adjacent restaurants.
If buildings C and D are permitted to remain in their present locations and footprints, their initial height must be reduced below 75 feet, to fifty feet at any parapet or cap, and their upper story setbacks must be far deeper, on the order of a structural bay or more, to prevent them from dominating the park.
We are heartened that the proponent has acceded to the request of the Mayor and substantially enlarged the open space at the base of the Cove, expanding visibility of and access to the water. We note, however, that this was accomplished with minimum impact on total project square footage, and by removing one of the lowest, most extensive building segments.
Height and Density
SAND has always supported the concept of a dense neighborhood, patterned on the existing historic structure of the Fort Point Channel District. We have also been clear that these elements need to be properly deployed to be effective and not do harm. A look at the Boston Harbor waterfront development shows a series of six-story warehouses built in close proximity to active wharves and transportation links to the interior. With the Cove being the only area now slated for maritime use, and that being only commuter, excursion and pleasure craft, there is no need for development at the waters edge
The city rose up, proceeding inland from the water in a deliberate, pyramidal massing that has created an exceptionally fine skyline over downtown. Those places where tall structures were placed close to the water are now seen as mistakes, best illustrated by Harbor Towers. Many people now realize that Rowe's Wharf's massing is too dense and tall in its proximity to the water. This proposal, in general, seeks to rise higher more quickly than is appropriate. Consideration of the various sections provided illustrates how abrupt and insufficient the setbacks are.
Though the City of Boston's Public Realm Plan calls for only a few buildings over 150 feet tall, and an average building height of no more than 150 feet, we find seven of eight buildings over 150 feet, with the eighth only six feet less. This is clearly not what was intended, and no amount of podium averaging can strip that fact away. When discussing buildings we do not average the lower portions against the maximum height, that is the function of FAR as a diagnostic tool. The result of this height grab has been to drive McCourt to propose a building(s) of 400 feet, which is clearly in the range of the downtown Financial District, and means that this district will in fact compete with it for visual supremacy.
We are shocked that this proposal has grown by 300,000 square feet over the prior, egregious proposal. The amount of square footage is wholly inappropriate for this site. We note SAND's prior recommendations, the Mayor's South Boston Waterfront Committee's recommendation of a 1.5 million square feet cap, and the BSA's of 2.1 million square feet. No proposal over 2.5 million square feet should even be entertained. The impossibility of deploying that bulk in a responsible manner on the site is made clear by the Chapter 91 compliant alternate which has been submitted. The alternate, in its wholesale disregard for the principles of the Public Realm Plan clearly indicates the level of concern the proponent is expressing for the City and the Harbor. They demonstrate a lack of understanding of the privilege and the enormity of the responsibility that comes with undertaking construction on this site.
The seventy five foot height cornice line, coupled with a mere ten foot setback is wholly inappropriate and should be adjusted. The Fort Point Channel District may average a seventy five foot cornice line, but it is not consistent and varies amongst the various buildings on each block. The purpose of setbacks is to visually decouple towers from the building base, provide for light and air to reach the street and sidewalks, and reduce wind tunnel effects brought about by sheer walls.
It is not clear that these small setback will provide sufficient reduction in ground level winds. Thorough wind tunnel testing needs to be done to make certain that uncomfortable winds are absolutely minimized for all conditions exception those coming off the Harbor during storms.
It is clear that a ten foot, or less, setback will not provide adequate visual decoupling of a shaft from its base. In several cases the Chapter 91 compliant plan with a higher streetwall will be far less intrusive than the massive shaft with inadequate setback proposed. Additionally, penthouses and mechanical equipment should be limited in the amount of visibility they will receive from elsewhere on the site and other public ways, and not permitted an unlimited height above occupiable floors.
The shadow studies provided illuminate us to the impact that all of this building will have on the use of the harbor side. Because of our climate and the location of the site it is necessary that a maximum amount of light be able to fall on the Harborwalk and other open areas throughout the year. Yet we find extraordinary shadows being cast which will radically curtail the desirability of the park areas during a large part of the year, particularly in the later afternoon and evening hours. We need to have substantial light in the afternoon as a primary method of encouraging public use well into the evening. If the Harbor has light as people leave work they will be enticed into lingering in Boston and making it part of their non-work life. Trapped in cold shadows, people will leave for more hospitable places. We do not permit shadows this deep and persistent to even approach the Common or Public Garden, but we are being asked to embrace that on this most important piece of harborfront.
Building A is egregious in the manner in which it does not relate to the entry of the Federal Courthouse in scale or setback. The Courthouse Square concept indicated by the McCourts is far preferable, though over scaled. The sole entry and reduced scale at the location of the courthouse calls for a more responsive plan. And the notion of a 300 foot tower rising directly alongside a 150 box is completely out of scale. A much more sensitive design is clearly indicated for that portion of the building.
A concern for the eventual adaptive reuse of the various structures should be made. We are concerned that the many large floor plates over sixty feet in width, and the relatively low floor-to-floor heights may render much of the space amenable only for commercial office space. It is important to note that the trend in class A European office space is for tall, narrow floors incorporating daylighting and operable windows, valuable for many reasons, not least of which is increased productivity and retention of employees. The alleyway network which characterizes the Fort Point Channel District has also been jettisoned as an organizer of design elements. This subordinate circulation network does much to enliven and relieve the streetscape, providing alternate paths and means of servicing, which no interior atrium passageway can substitute for.
Open Space Management
We are tremendously concerned that the site will be patrolled by private security and not by Boston Police, and feel that an easement needs to be created for full and complete, irrevocable public access and policing of the streets and open spaces of the project. We had been assured by the proponent that this will not be a gated community. Yet nothing so signals a private enclave as private security, not beholden to respect of the rights and propriety expected in truly public places.
The public must be afforded full access to all streets, roads, ways, parks and other exterior places twenty four hours a day, at all times of the year, without exception. The recent controversy over public access to Fan Pier and the closing of the Harbor Walk during the upcoming Sail Boston event had made us more aware of how private a place this will be. This area must be as open to the public as the Boston Common or the Esplanade, and all needed easement, guarantees and sureties must be established by the proponent to ensure this. Explanations of how the improper exercise of private police powers will be avoided, as seen in many business improvement districts across the country, should be fully detailed.
The enforcement of parking and traffic regulations should be consistent with City policy and enforced by City personnel. The parking garages should be opened free of charge to South Boston residents during snow emergencies. Plazas in front of buildings and other paved areas should not be used for valet parking or other short term, overflow uses. Taxi stands should be provided and clearly marked.
Docking rights need to be clarified. Short term private mooring is variously stated as 5 to fifteen minutes, which is insufficient for a meal. The concept of providing boat moorings in the Harbor is also mentioned. Fan Pier is immediately adjacent to President's Road, the main shipping channel of the Harbor. No action which impinges on the viability of the Harbor as a maritime way should be permitted. A full description of what activity and its management, permitting and other items needs to be made.
Public Realm & Streetscape
Sidewalk widths should be consistent with City of Boston standards, with a minimum clear width of eight feet at all points, and wider as needed. Paving materials at crosswalks should be smooth to encourage use of crosswalks by pedestrians and safety and accessibility for the handicapped. There need to be designated crosswalks at all sides of all corners and intersections, particularly at the edge of Fan Pier.
Harborwalk and streetscape elements should be consistent with others of the Waterfront district to ensure seamless integration amongst various developments.
Doors to street must be provided frequently, approximately every fifty feet at minimum. Every ground floor subdivision of each building must have at least one entry from each block which it faces, open and usable during all hours of business.
Garage exhausts must not be vented below the second story level. As currently designed, the majority would vent directly to the sidewalks of the project degrading the pedestrians experience, if not health, and limiting opportunities for use of the streetwall by other building uses.
Garage elevator locations should not be located at the interior of buildings. With one exception they are at the most interior point of buildings, removing life from the street. Garage exits should all be to sidewalks on the exterior of buildings encouraging street life.
We have concerns that all of the retail spaces indicated will not be able to achieve viability, particularly those on more minor streets and against the Courthouse. Operational plans should be created and reviewed which examines interim solutions to activate those spaces and find non-retail uses until such time as the demand for such spaces arises.
SAND objects to the approach of increasing the square footage of housing on site by enlarging the average unit size. Housing should be provided in a variety of sizes, from studios to three-bedrooms, including lofts, at nominal sizes. A full range of levels of affordability should be provided for each type of housing, on site. We would also like assurances that off-site affordable units will be built and completed concurrent with the primary development.
We wonder where are the other civic spaces that we would expect in a neighborhood that is not a simulacra? Where will be the libraries, the churches, the civic meeting rooms, the police and fire station, medical facilities and all of the other things we would run across in a real neighborhood? Not only are they not present, they are not allowed for, and if by chance this outdoor mall someday becomes a neighborhood they will have to be painfully and expensively backfitted into recalcitrant spaces. In every regard we see an incisive attention to matters which will generate rental and lease income, and pay enormous dividends, but only the thinnest veneer of what it takes to make a place, a neighborhood. These items must be attended to, this place is too important, and this project should not move forward unless they are successfully addressed.
Energy Use & Environment
Concepts like use of LEEDS should be categorically required, not suggested as a potential approach. Similarly, design should be based on life-cycle costing, and all efforts made to incorporate locate materials and fabricators in these projects. Daylighting strategies and operable windows should be an integral part of energy use reduction and habitability improvement.
Strategies to limit airborne contaminants, canine and avian feces from entering stormwater should be studied. Potential to make use of stormwater and gray water on site should be studied and included.
Thank you for you diligent, continuing attention to this matter. We are availaible to discuss any matter, or meet with you at your convenience.
Jon Seward, on behalf of
Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design
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