To read SAND's earlier comment letter to the BRA on the Municipal Harbor Plan draft, click here.


The following SAND testimony was presented to the Boston City Council on 8/1/00 at a City Council hearing on the Municipal Harbor Plan. The BRA testified on behalf of its Municipal Harbor Plan. Following a presentation by the BRA, testimonies were given by the Conservation Law Foundation, Hubie Jones, SAND, the Boston Preservation Alliance, the Boston Society of Architects, WalkBoston, The South Boston Neighborhood Design Advisory Committee, the Back Bay Neighborhood Association and a number of other appreciably informed groups, residents and interested individuals.

City Councilors present during various portions of the hearing included Maura Hennigan (Chair of this hearing), Peggy-Davis Mullen and Paul Schappichio and Michael Flattery. Councilors Hennigan and Davis-Mullen were present during SAND's testimony.

SAND is compiling a written comment letter regarding the Municipal Harbor Plan for consideration by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (public comment deadline is 9/15 -- click here for more info).

City Council Testimony re: Municipal Harbor Plan 8/1/00

Steve Hollinger, resident of Fort Point, South Boston
on behalf of
The Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND)

I understand that each of our City's neighborhoods require attention. But, regarding the Municipal Harbor Plan, if a critical eye is not trained on what actually gets built on the South Boston waterfront, an opportunity to create a vibrant neighborhood will be squandered. With the publication of the South Boston Seaport Public Realm plan in 1999, a vision of the area's emergence as an urban mixed-use neighborhood was outlined. But instead of guiding developers towards this extraordinary vision, the Municipal Harbor Plan simply maximizes the utility of the area for private development, precluding the emergence of neighborhood ideals.

The BRA would have you believe that citizens who are critical of the Municipal Harbor Plan oppose density and height on the waterfront and are seeking to create vast windswept parks and triple deckers. This is far from truthful. Even the most ardent vocal critics of the Municipal Harbor plan support a dense buildout for the South Boston Waterfront. And no open space advocates have pushed for prairies or Duxbury as suggested by the BRA.

But it is fair to say that the promise of the Public Realm Plan is broken by the Municipal Harbor Plan.

One promise of the Public Realm Plan was that building heights would be scaled down as they approached the water's edge. After over a year of collaboration on the Public Realm Plan, taxpaying citizens, developers and the BRA's own hired consultants agreed regarding the scaling of heights at the water's edge and a promise was made in that document.

The Public Realm Plan states clearly on page 67 and again on page 106 that the predominant height in the district will be 150 feet, with few allowances for buildings between 150 and 300 feet. As buildings approach the water, heights are to be scaled in zones from 150 to 75 and to 55 feet according to the Public Realm Plan.

So, why is it that the Municipal Harbor Plan allows Fan Pier developers to site eight towers, seven of which range from 150 to 300 feet? The answer is that the Municipal Harbor Plan is not tailored to fulfill a public promise; it has been tailored to fulfill a private promise.

A promise of the Public Realm Plan was that buildings would be set back from the water's edge, at a minimum of 100 feet. After over a year of collaboration on the Public Realm Plan, taxpaying citizens, developers and the BRA's own hired consultants agreed on setbacks and a promise was made in that document.

So why is the Municipal Harbor Plan allowing developers to push hotel and office towers within 50 feet of the Harbor's edge? The answer is that the Municipal Harbor Plan is not tailored to fulfill a public promise, it has been tailored to fulfill a private promise.

A significant promise of the Public Realm Plan was that a critical mass of people would invest their lives in the South Boston waterfront. The area was not to be owned and maintained by a few property owners, but rather by an influx of residents coming from South Boston, greater Boston, the region and around the world. But the Municipal Harbor Plan deceptively sidesteps the issue of housing by suggesting that a critical amount of housing will occur in Fort Point. The BRA is aware that Fort Point is evolving rapidly for use as an office district and few opportunities for residential development exist there. Gillette, the new owner of a substantial portion of undeveloped property is staunchly opposed to residential development -- perhaps rightly so considering conflicts with their industrial uses. So, the Municipal Harbor Plan must honestly consider how and where housing for people of a wide range of economic backgrounds will be accomodated in great numbers on the waterfront because developers have already demonstrated that they would prefer to avoid a discussion of these needs.

Perhaps the most visionary promise of the Public Realm Plan was that a zoning framework would be created to foster the evolution of a new urban mixed-use neighborhood, not a commercial district or a destination district so favored by business interests and developers.

So, why does the Municipal Harbor Plan allow for commercial development at such extreme density at the water's edge that recreational parks, neighborhood amenities such as firestations and police stations and schools will never be acommodated? Isn't one primary function of a Municipal Harbor Plan to use the power of offsets and substitutions to identify, amass and reclaim land for public and civic use? Why should private developers be left to create and maintain our public and civic needs?

While the BRA contiues to echo the word "neighborhood," they have squandered this tremendous opportunity to identify land for public and civic use through offsets and substitutions. The BRA's waterfront is not a neighborhood unless land for recreation, fire, police, schools and other civic needs are laid down before developers dig in hotels, condos and office towers. The Municipal Harbor Plan could show public teeth, but instead picks the public pocket.

In closing, I encourage you all to request that the Boston Redevelopment Authority withdraw its draft of its Municipal Harbor Plan recently submitted for State approval, pressing the BRA to rework the plan through a public process until it more closely fulfills the promise of the South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan.

I thank you for this opportunity to point out only a few of the numerous discrepencies between the Municipal Harbor Plan and the promised vision of the Public Realm Plan. I hope each of you will look beyond borders and districts to understand that the South Boston waterfront is something we all could be proud of.

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