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The Boston Redevelopment Authority held a community meeting yesterday — the agency’s third in a summer series of public meetings to discuss proposed massing (i.e. height and density) of the Fort Point 100-Acres Plan, known as the Gillette/USPS plan by members of the residential community.
Groundhog Day, 2001-2005
No change to the Gillette/USPS plan was shown, either in response to prior comments or ongoing private negotiations with Gillette and USPS.
The plan proposes a significant increase in as-of-right buildout for property owners, while adhering to minimal standards for open space as required by State Chapter 91 waterfront regulations (which allow streets and sidewalks to be included in the fulfillment of "open space"). A strikingly disturbing aspect of the plan is that it walls off A Street from the Fort Point Channel with a formidable row of new office buildings — missing incredible opportunity to create a signature recreational park and welcoming esplanade entrance to one of the City’s most precious water-related assets. (more about this follows, from meeting notes of 7/22/05).
According to the BRA, the Fort Point community is well suited for its only recreational park to exist at West First Street — a distance of over 1/3rd mile from Wormwood Street and nearly 1/2 mile from the intersection of A and Summer Street (the heart of Fort Point’s current and future residential development).
The BRA has stated that this site for a recreational field was chosen because of a consistent call from South Boston residents asking for a recreational park space to be closer to the traditional neighborhood. Yet no residents of the traditional South Boston neighborhood have ever made this claim in any of the the 45+ Fort Point public realm meetings, charrettes or community gatherings (please drop us an e-mail if you know otherwise and we will correct the record). Furthermore, counter to the BRA’s claim, there are four parks in South Boston's Lower End closer in proximity than the proposed new recreational field. Fort Point’s only existing greenspace is a 60' x 100' "postage stamp" at the corner of Wormwood and A Street (created by the Central Artery and USPS).
The BRA indicated that no changes to the Gillette/USPS plan are expected prior to the BRA entering into the MOU with large property owners. No review of this MOU prior to its signing will be afforded to either small property owners, abutters or other stakeholders.
A representative of the Artery Business Committee (a organization advocating for the legal definition of "open space" to be redefined to include indoor publicly accessible spaces --click here to read) stated that the community should recognize that the 100-acres greenspace plan had changed in a number of interesting ways. None were identified.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority held a community meeting yesterday — the agency’s second in a summer series of public meetings to discuss impacts of heights and densities of the Fort Point 100-Acres Plan (known as the Gillette/USPS plan by members of the residential community). The meeting was held in South Boston, driving distance from the Fort Point District (as are 2 of every 3 of the meetings in the recently announced Fort Point Advisory Committee schedule). Fewer than a half-dozen residents of Fort Point, and no residents of the traditional South Boston residential community, were in attendance.
Note regarding public meetings: The meeting was the second of three public meetings slated by the BRA in 2005 to present height and density plans proposed under the 100-acres plan. The BRA had hosted three public meetings in late 2003 and early 2004 to discuss “conceptual height zones”. From August 2004 to May 2005, the BRA met exclusively in private with large property owners -- no public meetings were held during this period.
The BRA presented shadow studies of its proposed plan, comparing the proposed buildout to a buildout as would occur under State Chapter 91 Waterfront Regulations. The BRA’s slides were labeled "as-of-right" — suggesting to attendees that the development depicted was currently allowable — even though they did not take into account any restrictions under existing zoning or under an existing "Interim Planning Overlay District (IPOD)". Attendees and members of the Fort Point Advisory Committee were unable to assess or discuss newly proposed rights and associated shadow impacts under the proposed plan.
In response to inquiries regarding this discrepancy regarding a presentation of an "as-of-right" buildout, the BRA agreed that the slides may have been improperly labeled, but existing zoning would not actually required to be used in comparing impacts when the City files for State approval of the proposed plan. SAND reminded the BRA that these public meetings were scheduled for the community and Fort Point Advisory Committee to assess the plan and its associated impacts -- not to simply assist the BRA and large property owners in the filing of a State Chapter 91 application.
Any shadow impacts visible under the newly proposed plan were cancelled out by the extreme buildout allowable under Chapter 91, so it was impossible for attendees to draw any information regarding "new impacts" from the comparison slides.
Members of the Fort Point community have made clear that new development rights and associated impacts are important to consider. Members of the community are interested in understanding whether the BRA is adding value to undeveloped tracts strictly for an economic development agenda or if the agency is using its powers (i.e. zoning variances, tax incentives) to impart strong urban planning principles that would suit the needs of an evolving neighborhood. For the past decade, intense pressures in the Fort Point area have biased planning towards an office district, with few amenities and lagging housing construction to meet the demands of an urban neighborhood.
The BRA’s proposed plan has raised concern in the Fort Point community in its lack of responsiveness to urban planning principles developed by the BRA’s own hired consultants (Coopers, Robertson and Partners), the Boston Society of Architects and SAND during many years of comments, community meetings and charrettes — especially with regard to the public realm and access to the Fort Point Channel. Click here to look at a timeline of public realm planning in Fort Point.
The plan offers a dense mix of new development, with buildings expected to range in height from roughly double to triple existing heights in the district.
Recent BRA slideshows have indicated that "Research and Development" laboratory may count toward fulfillment of an expected proportion of total "Civic and Cultural" space, rather than towards the total allowable "Office Space" -- a troubling trend considering the amount of office space and other 9-5 / Monday-Friday uses already in the district.
In response to years of advocacy by SAND, the BSA and others for a signature recreational park in the heart of Fort Point, the BRA has instead proposed a soccer field on USPS property at the edge of Fort Point near West First Street, nearly 1/2 mile from the heart of Fort Point and nearly 1 mile from South Boston Waterfront residents who might want to use the area’s only recreational field.
The BRA’s development plan proposes a wall of buildings along A Street (below left), dismissing years of consistent advocacy and widespread support for a park to function as an inviting corridor for pedestrian access to the Fort Point Channel and Harborwalk from A Street (for example, below right). A narrow strip of greenspace — already imposed by State regulations, will exist at the edge of the Fort Point Channel. This waterfront strip is surrounded on all sides by newly proposed office buildings and the Gillette manufacturing facility.
As proposed, the entire Fort Point Channel and Harborwalk would only be accessible to pedestrians on A Street who knew that the Harborwalk existed at the end of a sidewalk— not by a single visible, welcoming greenspace or pathway from A Street leading to the water’s edge. According to all parties involved in the planning, the streets would have heavy traffic — making it even more unlikely that a visitor, walking along the wall of buildings at A Street, would know that the Fort Point Channel and the Harborwalk existed.
The BRA has refused repeated requests to consider and/or examine impacts of alternative plans. Instead, after approximately one year of private meetings with large property owners, the BRA has presented the community with an ultimatum: either "plant the flag" with the BRA in support of the proposed plan, or the large-property owners may walk away.
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