To read earlier testimony to the Boston City Council on the Municipal Harbor Plan, click here.

Update 9/6/2000

Environmental Secretary Durand and the BRA have agreed to extend the Municipal Harbor Plan public comment period until October 18, 2000.


The following SAND testimony was delivered to Environmental Secretary Robert Durand on 8/9/00 at the second of two public hearings held by the State Environmental Agency on the Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP). Following a brief presentation by the BRA, testimonies were given by approximately 30 community groups, advocacy groups, business interests, developers, property owners and a number of other appreciably informed individuals. Roughly two dozen of the orators, supported by a decree of the Boston City Council, asked Robert Durand to consider a 90-day extension, disatisfied with the three week extension that Secretary Durand requested and received within the past few days.

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 10/4/2000-- click here for more info).

Testimony to Environmental Secretary Robert Durand 8/9/00
Re: Municipal Harbor Plan
On behalf of
The Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND)

My understanding is that you are charged with the responsibility of guiding development of the South Boston Waterfront with a trained eye on public accommodation and appropriate use of natural resources. Neither your office, nor a Municipal Harbor Plan, is chartered to dictate specific land uses - for example placing a hotel on one parcel and an office on another. But a Municipal Harbor Plan should not impose a development framework that hinders or constricts the success of a Public Realm Plan.

Our group believes that the Municipal Harbor Plan presented for approval by the BRA is a development framework for a commercial or destination district, one which will hamper the ability of the district to emerge as a densely populated, diverse and vibrant mixed-use neighborhood. In doing so, the Municipal Harbor Plan strays from the extraordinary neighborhood plans envisioned in the widely heralded South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan and in doing so, impairs the "environment" that you are charged to protect for the public good. If a neighborhood does not emerge in the waterfront, a small number of affluent and powerful people will forever shape public access here -- just as they are doing today.

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 75-100 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 of over 200 feet 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 is oddly deceptive in its projections regarding housing by suggesting that a critical amount of housing will occur in Fort Point. The BRA is keenly 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 accommodated 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 libraries, fire stations and police stations and schools will never be accommodated? 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 continues 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 non-commercial recreation and civic uses 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 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 speak to you, and hope you will consider that the "environment" of the South Boston waterfront extends beyond the Harborwalk, beyond hotel lobbies and cafes, beyond the trinkets that have been presented to the public by this Municipal Harbor Plan. A Municipal Harbor Plan for the South Boston waterfront should embody a plan for neighborhood development if there is ever to be a meaningful connection between our future generations and the sea.

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