The following e-mail notes were received at the SAND website. The MHP notes of the Conservation Law Foundation included below echo a number of SAND's concerns regarding the Municipal Harbor Plan.
A Summary of CLF's Position on the South Boston Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan
The Boston Redevelopment Authority's Municipal Harbor Plan ("MHP") for the Seaport/South Boston Waterfront presents the City's plans for the future development of the waterfront parcels that will make or break what we all hope will become Boston's next great neighborhood. The Conservation Law Foundation ("CLF") believes that substantial and substantive changes are needed to both the Plan and individual projects such as Fan Pier if this new neighborhood is to be anchored by a waterfront which meets the requirements of the public trust doctrine and its statutory embodiment, Chapter 91. CLF's concerns with the Municipal Harbor Plan fall into three broad categories:
Inconsistency with the Public Realm Plan
Building Heights: The Public Realm Plan envisioned that most buildings in the Seaport would be 150 feet or less, with heights stepping up from the water's edge as development moves inland and the tallest/densest development between New Northern Avenue and Congress Street. The Municipal Harbor Plan would allow almost every building on Fan Pier and Pier 4 to be taller than 150 feet.
Open Space Network: The Municipal Harbor Plan would change the open space network laid out in the Public Realm Plan. One of the most egregious changes would be the destruction of a 3.5 acre park between the Convention Center and Fort Point Channel touted as the centerpiece of the Wormwood section of the Seaport.
Mix of Uses: The Public Realm Plan calls for "residential, cultural, civic, retail, restaurant and entertainment uses close to the waterfront, not office space or large hotels." The Municipal Harbor Plan allows construction of office space and large hotels on key waterfront sites including Fan Pier.
Overly Dense Development at the Water's Edge
The Municipal Harbor Plan allocates too much of the district's development to a handful of parcels at the water's edge. For example, it would allow 3.2 million square feet of development on Fan Pier and 1.2 million square feet on Pier Four.
The amount of development that belongs on the waterfront depends first on the total amount appropriate for the area and then on how much belongs at the water's edge. The City's transportation study answers the first question: given an optimistic view of "transportation carrying capacity", full build-out is no more than 31 million square feet.
The question of how much of this density belongs at the water's edge is addressed both by Chapter 91 and the Public Realm Plan. Chapter 91 requires more open/civic space and less private square footage on waterfront parcels. The Public Realm Plan calls for density inland and along the Silver Line transit corridor.
There is plenty of acreage throughout the district on which to create a vibrant, urban neighborhood, But development at the water's edge must be lower-scale and lower-density if the Seaport's substantial but ultimately limited development capacity is allocated in accordance with Chapter 91 and the Public Realm Plan. (OVER)
Failure to Meet Chapter 91's Standards for Plan Approval
The heart of a Municipal Harbor Plan which incorporates substitutions is the required demonstration (see 301 CMR 23.05(3)(d)) that "the substitute provisions . . . will promote, with comparable or greater effectiveness, the state tidelands policy objectives" and the assurance that the "plan includes other requirements which, considering the balance of effects on an areawide basis, will mitigate, compensate, or otherwise offset adverse effects on water-related public interests." CLF does not believe that the plan meets these standards. Among its most glaring deficiencies are the following:
Lack of Alternatives Analysis: A Municipal Harbor Plan must include, among other things, "a planning analysis which synthesizes the technical data, community input, and other information which served as the basis for evaluating tradeoffs among alternatives and choosing preferred courses of action." (301 CMR 23.02). The MHP does not even consider alternatives to the tall, dense development proposed for the Inner Harbor including Fan Pier and Pier Four. This is especially troublesome because the draft plan substantially relaxes the height and setback requirements of state waterways regulations and the regulations specify that the level of analysis required depends on the degree to which the waterways regulations are relaxed.
Focus on private rather than public benefit: Under the Plan the "private benefits" to landowners of relaxed regulatory standards are specific and immediate while the "public benefits" to water-related public interests are general, contingent and occur far in the future. The Plan gives property owners immediate regulatory relief by creating dimensional envelopes which in many cases are well in excess of that which would be permitted under Chapter 91. The public is entitled to know in the Plan - not in some future permitting process -- whether these relaxations are justified.
Offsetting Rather Than Mitigating Wind and Shadow: The Plan would allow taller buildings than Chapter 91, which is permissible only if the resulting buildings are "relatively modest in size" such that wind and shadow impacts will be conducive to a pedestrian-friendly environment.
Rather than trying to minimize adverse wind and shadow impacts by moving buildings away from the water's edge or lowering their height, the Plan accepts that there will be adverse wind and shadow impacts and promises to "offset" them later. Essentially, the "real" analysis of offsets is deferred to later project-specific review process under Article 80, MEPA and Chapter 91--a "we'll do it later" approach which is not acceptable under Chapter 91.
Absence of An Implementation Program: An approvable plan must include an "implementation program" which specifies how the Plan's requirements will be implemented through legal and institutional arrangements, financial strategies, and other." Promises of yet-undrafted future zoning provisions at an unspecified future date do not constitute an approvable implementation plan, which must specify the "ordinances/bylaws, regulations, capital improvements, programmatic initiatives or other organizational measures" which the City will adopt and include timetables for their completion. See 301 CMR 23.04(6).
Incompatibility with Other Agency Plans: All feasible measures must be taken to achieve compatibility with all state agencies with plans or projects in the area (see 301 CMR 23.05(4). Full consultation and compatibility is thus required with agencies including the MBTA and highway department with respect to Courthouse Station on the Silver Line and the re-building of Northern Avenue.
CLF: LONG ROAD AHEAD FOR FAN PIER
Secretary of Environmental Affairs presents Pritzker Team with substantial "to do list", throws schedule and shape of project in doubt
BOSTON (July 18, 2000) -- The Conservation Law Foundation ("CLF") today described the decision of Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs Bob Durand regarding the controversial Fan Pier proposal as "approval in name only."
The Secretary observed that there were two key issues yet to be resolved by the Fan Pier Land Company, the local arm of the Pritzker family/Hyatt hotel empire: transportation capacity and compliance with the "Public Trust" law known as Chapter 91. These concerns were raised in the extensive comments filed by CLF and others with the Secretary during the recent public comment period.
"Secretary Durand has recognized the coming transportation crisis in the Seaport/South Boston Waterfront. Today's decision means that no project, including Fan Pier, can move ahead until these serious transportation problems are solved." stated CLF Staff Attorney Seth Kaplan. Noting that Secretary Durand had called for the convening of a Transportation Summit, Kaplan added that: "Unless the Transportation Summit identifies and provides for significant new transit capacity to supplement the "Silver Line" bus service, then massive projects like Fan Pier simply will have to be scaled back."
Orthophoto courtesy of Mass. CZM, NOAA, and MIT
The Secretary also agreed with CLF that the Pritzker team's analysis of waterfront public trust or "Chapter 91" issues raises more questions than it answers but postponed resolution of the myriad problems to the state and public review process for the City of Boston's Municipal Harbor Plan, a document submitted for state review last Friday. "As the Secretary points out, the Fan Pier team's own studies show that the Fan Pier project creates a windier and less pleasant place than a project that fully complies with current Chapter 91 regulations." said CLF Senior Attorney Stephanie Pollack, adding "This decision really turns the heat up on the City's Municipal Harbor Planning process now underway."
A Finite Seaport
By Bennet Heart
Mayor Menino has just released an extremely important and timely document related to the Seaport District/South Boston Waterfront. It's the South Boston Transportation Study, and it should be required reading for anyone who cares about the relationship between development and transportation in Boston generally and in the budding Seaport District specifically. The transportation corollary to the City's fine Seaport Public Realm Plan, the study reveals an important message about the district's transportation capacity that dovetails exceedingly well with principles of the Public Realm Plan.
Orthophoto courtesy of Mass. CZM, NOAA, and MIT
In just a few years the transportation network will be able to accommodate thousands of more trips to and from the Seaport than is currently possible. Some of the Central Artery's billions Project are going to complete the extension of the Turnpike to the Ted Williams Tunnel, and this stretch of suppressed highway will have on- and off-ramps into the Seaport. A new transit line, now dubbed the Silver Line, is being built too, and its first phase will link South Station with the Seaport. But this additional transportation capacity is not infinite. Indeed, as the new Transportation Study makes quite clear, there is a very real limit to how much development this district can support before gridlock - both traffic and transit gridlock - sets in.
There is presently about 14 million square feet of developed space in the 1,000 acre Seaport, much of which is essentially undeveloped. The City's excellent Public Realm Plan for the district calls for an additional 16.2 to 21.4 million square feet of mixed-use development to create a vibrant new neighborhood - approximately 30 to 35 million square feet of developed space at full build-out. It turns out, however, that according to the recently released Transportation Study, the most development that can be accommodated under the beefed up transportation network is 31 million square feet - an additional 17 million square feet combined with the present 14 - which is at the low end of the Public Realm Plan's build-out range. Build beyond 31 million square feet in the district without another major transportation investment, and say hello to serious gridlock.
And it does not appear that the Study is overly conservative in its conclusions. To the contrary, it appears that the City has adopted the MBTA's wildly optimistic projections for the carrying capacity of the Silver Line, and forecasts that at full build-out the MBTA will be able to have 60 foot articulated buses loading and off-loading up to 90 people per bus every 40 seconds. Nowhere in today's system does the T come anywhere close to this performance level. The Study also states that in order for the Silver Line to attract the level of ridership that will be asked of it by 2010, the Line must be extended from South Station by way of an underground tunnel that would link it with the Orange Line at Chinatown Station and the Green Line at Boylston Station, where it would connect with the other piece of the Silver Line, an on-street service out Washington Street to Dudley Square in Roxbury. The MBTA says it will build the full-build Silver Line by 2008, a plan that CLF wholeheartedly endorses, but whether this costly and complicated project will happen in this timeframe certainly remains to be seen.
What the Study strongly suggests, therefore, is that for the time being we should restrain our appetite for new development in the Seaport to 17 million square feet of development, and no more. Whether it makes sense to build another major transportation project for the district - which would surely be a transit project given the unreality of another major urban highway project in Boston in any of our lifetimes - should turn on an examination of transportation and development objectives for the entire metropolitan area.
One major transit project waiting in the wings is the Urban Ring. The Ring would create a powerful circumferential transit loop around our spoke-like system connecting all of the commuter rail and rapid transit lines (and many bus lines) and linking major employment centers like Logan Airport and the Longwood Medical Area with communities like Chelsea, Everett, Somerville, Roxbury and Dorchester where people will greatly benefit from this improved access. A recent MBTA report on the proposed Ring states that by 2020 the Blue, Green, Orange (north leg) and Red Line (south leg) will all be over capacity by between 20 and 30 percent, and that the Urban Ring, a project presently estimated to cost between $2.3 and $ 3.2 billion, would address these significant capacity needs. As proposed, however, the Ring would only modestly improve transit capacity to the Seaport. And while it may be possible to construct an Urban Ring like service that adds significant capacity to the Seaport, such decisions should not be made in vacuum. Tough choices will need to be made in the future as to what big ticket transit projects to fund and in what order; it should not be blithely assumed that a major transit project delivering added capacity to the Seaport will be first in line.
Fortunately, this is not bad news for the Seaport from an urban planning standpoint. Seventeen million more square feet is still a lot of development for this district, and the resultant 31 million square foot build-out falls within the build-out range set forth in the City's fine Public Realm Plan. It's also in keeping with the principles of the Plan which call for a "vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood" with "waterfront scale" building heights that slope down towards the water, residential South Boston, and the working port. What is means, however, is that people need to adjust their thinking, in both the municipal harbor planning process and in the permitting of individual projects, to include an appreciation for the transportation carrying capacity of this district. Thus, in addition to many other elements of sound urban planning, we need to consider how to allocate 17 million square feet of development in a way that exploits the transit capacity, and we need to be mindful of the transportation impacts of different types of development.
As luck would have it, we already have a good plan that takes these considerations into account, the Mayor's fine Seaport Public Realm Plan. The Public Realm Plan states quite logically that the tallest buildings in the district should be in the area between New Northern Avenue and Summer Street, away from the water's edge and closest to the two transit stations. Sometimes referred to as "transit-oriented development," siting building near transit stations is just plain common sense. In this case, putting the density closer to the transit stations and away from the water's edge is also consistent with the Public Realm Plan's call for smaller, more human-scale buildings by the water and is consistent with state tidelands law. Curiously, the draft study ignores the agreements between the City, the Commonwealth, and the McCourt Company that call for a spectacular Courthouse transit station and a redesigned New Northern Avenue to accommodate that station. Making a great transit station that presents the potential for people to exit the station and see directly before them a pavilion that leads to the Fan Pier cove is an opportunity that should not be squandered.
And as for the type of development, it is important to recognize that some development has more significant transportation impacts than others. Office development, it turns out, has much worse impacts in the commuting hours than residential or hotel development. The Transportation Study presents two scenarios, one that has the 8,000 housing units called for in the Public Realm Plan and one that replaces half of this housing with 4 million square feet of office space, and the results of the latter scenario aren't pretty. The high office scenario produces 13% more tripsduring the rush hours when capacity constraints are tightest. One element of the draft study that should be improved in the final version is that the high office and high residential scenarios should be run for 2025 (instead of just for the projected full build-out year 2040). Such a refinement would reveal the transportation impacts of different development scenarios, and would presumably show that somewhat more development can be accommodated by the transportation network if there is less office development and more housing. Housing of course has other advantages, like providing the people to make the neighborhood come alive and affording some relief to the housing crunch that is driving up prices in places like residential South Boston and Jamaica Plain.
The Study's release is quite timely in light of the municipal harbor planning process that is underway and the development proposals that are being brought forward. It is essential that in both the harbor planning process as well as in the permitting of individual projects consideration be given as to how to allocate development to best realize the vision of the Public Realm Plan. There is presently a very real risk that these processes will result in about two-thirds of the remaining transportation capacity being consumed by a few very large projects north of Northern Avenue. This all too real scenario would simultaneously stack too much development by the waterfront in a manner that would be out of step with the Public Realm Plan and state tidelands law, while thwarting the build-out of the rest of the district as called for by the Plan, as there would be insufficient transportation capacity for this to occur.
So kudos to the Mayor and his staff for the excellent Transportation Study. May we all learn from it and get reacquainted with the superb Public Realm Plan that it complements so very well. For now is the time for us to make strides towards realizing the vision of the Public Realm Plan, as informed by the timely and thoughtful Transportation Study, or to start down a path, perhaps irrevocably, in the direction of a reality that does not live up to the vision.
A Finer Vision for the Seaport
By Douglas I. Foy
Boston stands on the threshold of building its next great neighborhood, in the Seaport district of South Boston. The 1,000 acres of land across Fort Point Channel from the downtown financial district presents an opportunity no less significant than the design and construction of the Back Bay some one hundred years ago. It can be a wonderful legacy for our children, grandchildren, and their grandchildren.
Unfortunately, Boston is about to blow this legacy moment and construct, instead, a Manhattanized waterfront of commercial office towers, walling off Boston Harbor. Given the total of $21 billion the public is spending to clean up Boston Harbor ($5 billion), bury the Central Artery ($12 billion and rising), rehabilitate Logan Airport ($2 billion), build a Convention Center ($1 billion), and construct a new transit line to the Seaport (the Silver Line, at nearly $1 billion)34it would be a tragedy for Boston not to seize this opportunity and construct a signature waterfront district in the Seaport worthy of future generations. It falls to our generation to make sure that happens, just as Olmsted and others did for us more than one hundred years ago.
Imagine the Back Bay without the Esplanade or without its wonderful neighborhood mix of housing, or worse, with its spine of tall buildings literally standing 50 feet from the water's edge. That could be the Seaport, if current city plans for the district proceed.
The relationship between the Esplanade and the Seaport is even more striking when you consider the Central Artery project in downtown Boston. One of the promised benefits of that massive highway project is the creation of 27 acres of parkland over the newly buried Artery -- parkland that could literally complete the Emerald Necklace by connecting the Esplanade to the sea. The crown jewel of that connection will be found on the Seaport waterfront -- if it is to exist at all.
CLF is calling for a finer vision for the Seaport. We will use the Public Trust Doctrine and the tidelands laws of Massachusetts -- laws that we have enforced repeatedly over the past 20 years to protect public rights -- in pursuing that vision. In a way, the Seaport stands as a test of our collective commitment to environmental quality in cities and CLF's long history of urban advocacy. When we filed the federal lawsuit in 1983 to clean up Boston Harbor, our goal was that the high school graduating class of 2000 should be able to swim in the water. We have met that goal. What a pity it would be if we now walled off our restored harbor from its children.
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