SAND has filed the following comment letter in response to a Project Notification Form for the Midway Project, proposed by Beacon Capital Partners.
March 7, 2001
Ms. Susan Hannon Senior Project Manager
Boston Redevelopment Authority
One City Hall Square
Boston, Massachusetts 02201
Dear Ms. Hannon:
Thank you for providing SAND with an opportunity to comment on the Midway proposal submitted by Beacon Capital Partners. Our membership has a number of concerns related to this proposal and we welcome the opportunity to work with the BRA to ensure that this project enhances the Fort Point neighborhood and the City of Boston.
Absence of Master Plan
A major obstacle to SAND's comprehensive review of this proposal is the lack of a master plan for this district. We applaud the BRA's intent to create a master plan for this area, but without a formal plan in place, this project cannot be properly reviewed. A number of residents and elected officials have expressed concern regarding proposed building heights. Residents might be less fearful of the proposed 300-foot tower if the city committed, through zoning and planning, to impose height restrictions on adjacent parcels. Such height restrictions would assure residents that the tower will not set a precedent for the district. The current height limit for the area is 80' as determined by the Interim Planning Overlay District (IPOD). As stated in the Municipal Harbor Plan "Under the provisions of the MHP, development will continue to be regulated through the existing IPOD until permanent zoning for South Boston has been adopted." (Decision on The City of Boston's South Boston Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan, Robert Durand, Secretary of Environmental Affairs, 12/6/00, p. 62)
SAND's position on the Midway proposal is that it must conform with the standards codified in the IPOD, without variation or exception. While the impacts may seem negligible for phase one, the project as a whole needs to be considered for its impacts on the community and the environment. SAND recommends that the BRA insist that both phases of the project be evaluated at once, prior to any approvals being issued.
Material Misstatements of Fact
Further eroding SAND's ability to evaluate this proposal are the number of factual errors contained in the proposal. Although these errors have been identified and corrected (by citizens, not the proponent) at public meetings regarding the Midway proposal, the proponent has failed to correct the proposal or to amend public statements in conformance with the facts. Errors identified by SAND include:
The proponent stated that heights of 150 feet are suggested by the Public Realm Plan (PNF ES-iii and Article 80 Hearing 2/15/01) and the Municipal Harbor Plan (PNF 3-26 and Article 80 Hearing 2/15/01). In fact, the Seaport Public Realm Plan, the Municipal Harbor Plan and the existing Seaport IPOD all suggest a height limit of 80 feet.
The proponent stated that the existing parking on the property serves 400 vehicles (PNF 3-9, Article 80 hearing 2/15/01). The actual existing use is far lower, generally under 100 passenger vehicles and trucks.
The proponent stated that a total requirement of 30% for residential is a "goal" or a "suggestion" (PNF 1-13 and Article 80 hearing 2/15/01). In fact, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino signed an executive order requiring 1/3rd (33%) of all waterfront development to be residential and further limiting office space to 1/3rd.
The proponent states that the Fort Point Place condominium contains 158,000 square feet of housing. This is incorrect. In fact, Fort Point Place contains only 135,000 square feet of housing.
SAND respectfully requests that the BRA compel the proponent to correct all errors both in text and in all future public comments on this project.
In 2000, Mayor Menino issued an executive order limiting office space to 1/3rd of all new large projects, and requiring housing development as 1/3rd of all new projects. Under the terms of the order, a project of this size (1.75 million square feet) should contain 540,000 square feet of housing. The Midway proposal does not conform to the terms of this executive order. Furthermore, the Beacon proposal seeks to include the 117 housing units of Fort Point Place within the Midway housing total. SAND finds this wholly unacceptable. The inclusion of the Fort Point Place housing total represents a subversion of the Mayor's intent. In addition, the proponent fails to account for where the 200,000+ square feet of housing necessary to satisfy the 1/3 requirement will be constructed.
Since the time the Public Realm Plan was issued, the Gillette Corporation has purchased the casting basin, an area previously identified by the BRA as a potential site for housing. Gillette has publicly opposed housing in the area, so it seems unlikely that they will choose to construct housing on this new site. The Mayor has stated an objective of creating a live/work neighborhood in the South Boston Waterfront with at least 8,000 housing units. Given that fact, SAND is opposed to relaxing the Mayor's housing requirement for any development project in the South Boston Waterfront. SAND further encourages any off-site housing constructed under this plan to fall within the Fort Point neighborhood.
SAND heartily supports the work of the FPCC and fully backs the inclusion of artist live/work space in this project. It is a solution that works well with Gillette, as the artists and Gillette have coexisted successfully for over 25 years. It also helps the city reach its goals of increased housing and protection for the existing artist community.
The Midway Street project falls far short of reasonable open space objectives for a project of this scale. To examine the open space issue, it is fair to include Fort Point Place open space objectives and actual results in the discussion since the proponent predicates Fort Point Place residential volume on achieving residential requirement totals.
Fort Point Place, included as part of the Midway master plan, received variances and approvals from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Boston Zoning Board of Appeals, in part predicated on a promised fulfillment of its own Open Space objectives. The Fort Point Place PNF of May 19, 1999 stated (page 3):
The buildings at Fort Point Place will also line the southern edge of a proposed 3.5 acre park...Coupled with the new Park, a renovated Fort Point Place will help create a wonderful tree-lined pedestrian oriented street and strengthen the transformation of the neighborhood.
The Park referenced is the Wormwood Park appearing in the 1998 Seaport Public Realm Plan. Beginning in 1999 and continuing today, Beacon Capital Partners continues to market residential units in the building with this park as a featured attraction in its renderings. Beacon Capital Partners is aware that the BRA dramatically reduced the scale of this park in drafting the Municipal Harbor Plan. The developer did not advocate for completion of this park (as numerous other citizens did) during the Municipal Harbor Planning process.
More importantly, Beacon Capital's Midway Street PNF introduces a new, revised version of the City's Public Realm Plan (PNF, Exhibit 11) which shows a completely buildable parcel on the Wormwood Park area. The Midway Street PNF includes a model photograph (PNF, Exhibit 12) including a large building on the Wormwood Park parcel. Thus, while Fort Point Place is used to achieve housing objectives, it will never fulfill its own open space goals put forward by the proponent in 1998 to gain approvals for that project.
With regard to its own new open space objectives, the Midway PNF follows in similar form, with great promise and little potential return. Consider that on February 26, 2001, Beacon Capital Partners wrote a letter to Fort Point Place residents with the following statement:
One of Midway's most important contributions will be open space, designed to transform and unite the neighborhood with a pedestrian-oriented acre of seating, dining, site furnishings, lighting and public art.
The proponent did not mention in this letter that the open space on Midway will include "limited vehicular use" (PNF 3-8). Nor did the proponent mention that with a proposed ratio of office tenants to residents of 20:1 it will be unlikely that Midway will be a lively area at night or on weekends. We are also concerned that the proposed 300' tower will cast the project's entire open space in shadow during peak use. SAND would like the proponent to provide accurate, detailed illustrations of this street including the vehicle path and we would like the proponent to clarify whether this path will be used for emergency vehicle only, or be open to general traffic.
Midway Street currently exists and runs through the entirety of the site. It does not need to be, nor can it be, extended by means of an atrium. The intriguing possibility exists of further extending Midway Street to West Second Street, through the recently cleared Post Office Site. That option should be explored for its urban planning potential, as well as for any contributions to the easing of traffic.
SAND would like to see a more comprehensive open space proposal, whether it be on one of the unbuilt lots on site, or a contribution to the aggregation of open space off site in a neighborhood park as envisioned in the Public Realm Plan. The existing surface lots currently provide breathing space in this dense street. These spaces open the interior of Midway Street to A Street, making it feel less private. There is a value to pocket parks and the proponent should consider retaining one on site as part of an open space program.
Height and Density
The Midway Project proposes a 300 foot tower and a number of infill towers at 150 feet. These towers are 2-3 times the existing Seaport IPOD height of 80 feet, 2-3 times the height and density suggested by the Public Realm Plan and Municipal Harbor Plan, and 2-3 times the height of adjacent structures. The proposed density is based on the assumption that current zoning allows for a height of 150' and that height alone determines density. Beacon erroneously assumes that they can maximize every building height. Current zoning sets the FAR for Midway at approximately 4.0. Based on the full buildout scenario, the Midway development would have a FAR of approximately 6.5, which is far in excess of current zoning. Beacon does not provide acceptable proof of hardship to warrant zoning relief for this project. An evaluation of appropriate density needs to be determined for this project in the context of the entire district, through master planning by the BRA. Height is further limited by a prior city/BRA agreement with the South Boston neighborhood, struck as a condition of approving the BCEC & its headquarters hotel, that no other structures to the south of Summer Street would be permitted to rise above 150'.
Of great concern are the local economic impacts directly connected to the height and density of the Midway proposal. The negative impact of the proposed height and density on the local economy will be significant. Fort Point's historic warehouses have served a valuable purpose for artists, light industrial manufacturing, printing and small businesses. The majority of these tenants are leaseholders, not property owners. As the Midway Project towers serve as a beacon for urban rehabilitation, the entire area will be far less attractive to increasingly important existing uses and more attractive to tenants for class-A office space.
While class-A office space may offer tremendous opportunities for corporations, institutions and their employees, such space does little to alleviate Boston's dearth of neighborhood cultural institutions. The Fort Point neighborhood is rich in such institutions, serving as the home for a number of non-profit arts groups, gallery spaces, and artists. As such, SAND is reluctant to support construction of large scale office projects given the concomitant destruction of unique neighborhood cultural institutions.
Traffic and Transportation
SAND believes the traffic study conducted by the proponent is inadequate and should include study of peak traffic periods. In addition, the impacts of concurrent and future developments such as the new garage at Stillings Street and the Court Square Press building need to be taken into consideration. SAND is concerned that the Midway project will further burden A Street, which is already overburdened with traffic during peak periods and that intersections at Melcher Street and Summer Street, Congress Street and Atlantic Ave., A Street and Broadway, which fail now at peak traffic conditions cannot be mitigated. Further study of the Atlantic/New Northern Ave I-93 Ramps, and other intersections on the Waterfront and in South Boston should be further analyzed.
The proponent has stated that they expect to achieve a 65% public transit utilization among Midway tenants. Downtown Boston's Financial District achieves a 60% transit ridership, on the basis of little parking and superb transit connections. A Street is fundamentally different and its transit accessibility is not as inherent. An adequate Transportation Management Plan has not been prepared, and so the viability of the plan cannot be evaluated. The Seaport TMA has achieved a far lower ridership, much of which is car pooling, after several years of intensive support and operation. Any plan must have a component which tracks the success of any efforts, and has plans and support for modifying and upgrading efforts if it should fall short or be shown that additional efforts are needed.
South Boston Bypass Road access, currently reserved for commercial traffic should not in any way be jeopardized. Any change of usage, such as a new traffic lights, or access by private autos will threaten the operation of the road. The Central Artery Project, Logan Airport operations, Convention Center, Massport Development, are all dependent on efficient operation of the road, and have MEPA permits predicated on it. Access to the road will require agreement by the Post Office, or future land owner, and cannot be relied upon.
It is unclear what the effect will be of providing new loading and entries to buildings through interior passages from A Street. The potential conflict through adjacency of building entry, loading and service docks, vehicular circulation pass-throughs, and pedestrian passageways are of concern. A more detailed analysis of these issues is requested.
The 1,200 space parking garage is excessive for the site. Additional information is needed regarding the distribution and management of these spaces. If these spaces are not accessory to uses on site, then a permit will be necessary to remove them from the parking bank under the parking freeze. In light of this, we advise the BRA, and the developer, to dramatically reduce the number of proposed parking spaces allowed on the site.
It is the responsibility of the BRA, as part of a comprehensive master planning process, to determine the correct height, density and land uses for the Fort Point neighborhood. While the BRA has held numerous meetings with large property owners, including the Gillette Corporation and Beacon Capital Partners, the BRA has not held a single meeting of the Fort Point Working Group since the release of the Municipal Harbor Plan. SAND had been assured a role in the planning process for this neighborhood. Unfortunately, the trend we have observed is that each developer is given a forum and led through approvals. We remain concerned that spot zoning will not achieve the objectives of the Public Realm Plan. Our interests lie in creating a viable 24 hour neighborhood in the Fort Point District that is complementary to the existing artist community, consistent with the Public Realm Plan, and beneficial to the entire City of Boston. Working together with the BRA, the developer, and the community, we hope to make the Midway proposal one in which we can all be proud.
Thank you for your consideration.
Lisa M. Greenfield
on behalf of the Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design
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