To view a progress chart of BRA planning in Fort Point over the past decade, click here.
To read a story about the "flipping"
of approved residential condominiums as office space, click here.
To read a second story about "flipping", click here.
UPDATE 3/13/08: SAND Commentary
Data amassed by SAND evidences that the Boston Redevelopment Authority has systematically used a decade-long public planning process to reward select Fort Point and South Boston Waterfront property owners and developers with the approval of height and density above and beyond "as of right" under existing zoning, without requiring reciprocal agreements for any concurrent development of civic, cultural, public realm amenities, or even the proper mix of land uses projected by the BRA's own Master Plans.
The BRA's use of Master Plans and Planned Development Areas (PDAs) as means for simply adding height and density to the existing "as of right" zoning across the South Boston Waterfront without requiring any measure of reciprocity from developers who benefitted from the agency's largesse is widespread and may represent the singular most devastating failure of planning in Boston history -- larger than scope than the loss of Boston's West End to Charles River Park.
Ten years of data is available for analysis. In addition to the commentary provided here and on the SAND website, SAND has published a preliminary Fort Point Progress Index and a Seaport Housing Report that demonstrates that the BRA's approach to planning over the past decade, using its power to pump up the height and density of projects regardless of land use without requiring reciprocal development of public realm and housing units, has all but permanently squandered a significant opportunity to create a vibrant, urban residential neighborhood on the South Boston Waterfront.
Across the Fort Point District, not a single recreational park, civic space, community center exists to offset ten (10) years of BRA benefits and approvals granted to area property owners including variances from existing zoning, substantial height and density upgrades (far in exceess of as-of-right), and so-called "i-cubed" tax incentives.
SAND members have worked collaboratively with the BRA and City agencies on:
- The South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan
- The South Boston Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan
- The Commonwealth Flats Master Plan
- The Fort Point Channel Watersheet Activation Plan
- The Fort Point 100 Acres Plan
- The Boston Landmark Commission Fort Point District Study Committee
- The McCourt Gateway Project (proposed)
- The Pritzker Fan Pier Project (proposed)
- The Pier IV Project (proposed)
In 2006, the BRA approved a potential of approximately 4 million square feet of new density in the Fort Point District through the enactment of a "Planned Development Area #69" to codify its Fort Point 100 Acre Master Plan.Yet, while providing the added value of added height and density to five large property owners, the Boston Redevelopment Authority holds no signed reciprocal agreements with the same owners to guarantee the development of parkspace, civic space or anything other than "economically viable projects" (these are the BRA's words). According to the BRA, the developers can proceed in phases, according only to what is "economically viable" at the present time.
[Note: In 2007, the BRA informed members of the Boston Landmark Commission Fort Point Study Committee that the agency was formalizing "cooperation agreements" with property owners that would guarantee elements of the 100-Acre Plan such as parks, civic space and less-economically viable projects. SAND has been unable to confirm the existence of any such agreements. PDA #69, which developers are using to proceed with newly conferred rights on new projects, is a public document. Click here for notes.]
As of today, ten years after Fort Point planning began, both PDA #69 and a related series of Memoranda of Understanding [unavailable for public review] between the BRA and Fort Point property owners allow all new height and density captured through Master Plans to be constructed "as of right" with no further obligation. Developer Archon/Goldman, a signator to the 100 Acre Plan, has announced plans for building additions and infill "as of right" under PDA #69 without making any incremental progress toward fulfillement of the BRA's so-called Fort Point 100-Acre Master Plan (more about Archon/Goldman follows). Developers continue to cherry-pick benefits of past "planning" efforts while producing new office space at a record pace -- outstripping Fort Point's available building stock which, under 100-Acres Master Plan, should have been directed by the BRA towards housing and other less economically viable uses.
In other words, the BRA continues to incentivize projects that required no incentive in the current market, and has secured no incremental return. And, based on outcomes over the past 10 years, because the BRA has failed in its planning objectives, the agency has also failed in achieving any measure of its economic development aspirations for the South Boston Waterfront. Across the vast Seaport landscape and the Fort Point Historic District, developers simply sit back and wait for more development rights and bigger and better "Master Plans".
The BRA has hand-held developers through community meetings, defending each new project with an oft-repeated rationale that "the BRA supports only economically viable projects" and "a variance is not needed". The BRA has refused to respond to SAND's inquiry as to when and where the BRA's approval of additional height and density became "as of right". One community member, trying to add levity to the situation despite being displaced from his 600 square foot painting studio, noted that Archon/Goldman is "the greatest beneficiary of corporate welfare in Fort Point history, since the tidelands were filled in the mid 1800's."
To its credit, the BRA had at one time pledged support for the designation of Fort Point as a Landmark District by the Boston Landmark Commission, a process that was petititioned and supported by the Mayor and City Council seven years ago (2001). Yet in 2006, the BRA quietly inserted language supporting two-story additions in the final draft of the 100 Acre Plan without any public review. Over the past two years, the BRA has approved eight (8) one and two story additions on top of the district's most pristine historic wharf buildings, rather than supporting a moratorium on additions until Landmark Commission guidelines were approved as expected later this same year. This month, the BRA approved three rooftop additions and two loading courtyard infills on historic buildings for projects that are complete conversions from artist live/work to Class B office space.
In weeks ahead, SAND will be compiling the data on BRA variances and new rights to property owners granted under Planned Development Areas (PDAs) that produced no public amenities and no incremental progress toward a mixed-use outcome.
SAND COMMENTARY Regarding Archon/Goldman and Lincoln Properties Projects
QUESTION FOR THE BRA: Why didn't BRA planners suggest to Archon/Goldman Properties regarding their Melcher Street office development proposal "We'll approve the proposed addition and infill construction at 49, 51 and 63 Melcher Street if you do a residential project, otherwise you'll have to do an office project as-of-right without any additions or infill."?
ANOTHER QUESTION FOR THE BRA: Why didn't BRA planners suggest to Lincoln Properties regarding their Summer Street development proposal "We'll approve the proposed addition and infill construction on 316-322 Summer Street if you do a residential project, otherwise you'll have to do an office project as-of-right without any additions or infill."?
ANSWER: Because the BRA and property owners are privately gaming the Master Plans (explained below).
ANOTHER QUESTION: Why did the BRA representative at a recent public meeting regarding Archon/Goldman's proposed office projects at 49, 51 and 63 Melcher Street instruct the Fort Point community that we were not there to discuss the totality of Archon's other projects in Fort Point?
ANSWER: Because the BRA has lined Archon/Goldman's pockets with variances and added rights above existing zoning that will nearly double the height and density of the company's portfolio. Once the value was added to Archon/Goldman's original porfolio of 17 properties, Archon/Goldman cashed out by flipping 7 buildings to new buyers (such as Lincoln Properties, now pursuing the BRA-approved benefits of added height and density on top of 316-322 Summer Street while creating nothing but more office space).
That's only the half of it.
The BRA has allowed Archon/Goldman to abandon its widely touted "Archon/Goldman Master Plan" while the company is allowed to pocket the most lucrative benefit of the planning effort -- a proposed 180' tower at that requires demolition of one historic building (319 A Street, rear) and a gut-rehab of a prize Summer Street building (337 Summer). If the totality of Archon's projects were considered in a community meeting, based on all the variances and PDA approvals for new height and density given by the BRA, the community would be even more outraged about the lack of progress toward completion of any Master Plan whatsoever. The community would (at minimum) have expected Archon to achieve signficant progress toward it's "vision" by developing its Melcher Street properties for residential use.
While the Boston Globe, the Boston Civic Design Commission and armchair commenters at Archboston.com were mesmerized by the mythological Archon/Goldman Master Plan, community members who were actually engaged in the BRA's 100-Acres planning process were fully aware that the Archon/Goldman Master Plan was a bait and switch. But today, the real travesty is that the Boston Redevelopment Authority is promoting the theory that Archon/Goldman can reap every square foot of added value "as of right" while they do nothing but flip portions of their portfolio, renovate remaining historic buildings for office space, and march onward toward development of a BRA-facilitated tower over two gutted historic buildings. Oh, and maybe, if market conditions are right, maybe that tower over the gutted historic buildings will be able to host some of Archon/Goldman's original residential and mixed use obligations. Sorry, that's the best we can do, says the BRA.
So just what is going on?
The Boston Redevelopment Authority has clarified its position regarding its Fort Point plans: the agency is allowing Fort Point property owners to build to the maximum heights and densities allowable under the 100-Acre Master Plan while postponing their civic, cultural and open space obligations of the 100-Acre plan until a nebulous later phase ("when they are economically viable"). The agency is also awarding variances throughout the Fort Point district, while making no concurrent progress toward achievement of a mixed-use outcome.
In other words, the Fort Point District is being managed by the BRA as if it were a blighted district -- developers are being handed variances, approvals and tax incentives without any expectation of a concurrent mixed-use outcome. The impacts on the ground are severe, however, since projects that would easily proceed as-of-right under existing zoning are being pumped up with BRA-approvals for added height and density. As the district bloats with new office space, the existing community, the vitality of the district, and the spirit of prior public planning efforts are in critical condition.
Question: Why there are parking lots everywhere in Fort Point and throughout the Seaport?
Answer: Because the BRA has an open door for adding value year after year without any expectation of a timeframe or reciprocal return toward a particular outcome. For over 20 years, Fort Point and Seaport parking lot owners have accumulated benefits and enticements of numerous "Master Plans" yet have produced only a smattering of market-driven projects that actually required no BRA enticements to proceed. In other words, the longer you wait, the more floors you can build.
Question: Why doesn't the BRA require developers to move forward on Master Plans within a set timeframe, or lose the value granted by the BRA above what is owned as-of-right under existing zoning?
Answer: Because the BRA has never used its Master Plans to achieve an urban planning objective. All Seaport and Fort Point Master Plans have been used exclusively to: A) allow the BRA to present evidence of planning, by publishing numerous catalogs of glossy diagrams to placate the community, woo the media and build support from non-particating stakeholders, B) provide a non-binding method for the BRA to skirt the enactment of a district-wide zoning amendment, instead creating an environment where every project in an entire District is spot zoned, C) provide leverage for the BRA in parcel-by-parcel spot-zoning negotiations with developers to exact a undefined array of "offsite benefits" and D) enrich the BRA itself (the agency is entirely funded through developers payments and the sale of public property). No other outcomes have resulted from BRA Master Plans over the past decade.
In one project proposed within the 100-Acre plan's bounds, the BRA is supporting the addition of 37,000 square feet of rooftop addition and infill bulging from three historic buildings (on Melcher Street, recognized as one of the City's most beautiful streets) for a project that will be 100% office space -- in a district that is already 87% office space. No progress on development of a mixed-use neighborhood was required of Archon/Goldman (owner/developer) to recapture the added value of the BRA's approvals.
[Some background: Fort Point has no recreational parks, no civic spaces, no community center. Fort Point has no school, police or fire station, and none are planned by the BRA in any of the Seaport or Fort Point urban plans. Fort Point has one pocket park (owned by USPS), 40 x 60 feet, used primarily as a dog run. Only one residential project in Fort Point over the past five years (FP3), and only three have been approved over the past ten years (Fort Point Place, Channel Center). The BRA has allowed Gillette and USPS to postpone their public realm greenspace obligations to Phase Two of their 100-Acre commitments.]
A representative of Archon/Goldman was asked at the community's single public meeting on this project how the project contributes incrementally toward a broader vision of the district as a mixed use neighborhood. The representative responded (repeatedly) that "The addition and infill are being developed as-of-right." and "The retail component brings the needed vitality to the district." There was no explanation why it was necessary for the BRA to add value beyond what Archon/Goldman originally purchased, given that a straight renovation of these Melcher Street buildings would have been viable as office space -- the district is already 87% office space.
And as if that wasn't a kick in the teeth, Archon/Goldman's buildings had (prior to the company's discovery of the District) been leased for three decades as artist live/work studios (91 artists moved out and away), cultural non-profits (6 folded or moved away) and small businesses (including Mallard Marine, a South Boston institution that has had a rocky road since its relocation). And for what? More office space along with lucrative BRA-approved additions and infills for even more office space.
A BRA representative stated that progress toward achieving other (non-office space) goals would be made over the next twenty years. No explanation was given as to why the BRA was adding value without recapturing significant incremental progress toward the 100 Acre Master Plan.
Unfortunately, the BRA's statements about the future potential of the District are disingenuous -- and the BRA knows it. With the market-driven conversion of buildings throughout the district as office space, available existing building stock for housing has dwindled. And undeveloped parcels (Gillette, USPS) would be incapable of holding enough housing for a critical mass of residents over the next 20 years. The BRA would have to add density to the 100-Acre plan if it were to meet minimum housing projections. So, what the BRA isn't telling anyone directly is that to achieve their housing goals, they would have to propose adding even more density to the 100-Acre Plan -- a plan that already bulges with new construction between historic buildings like a grotesque, steroid-injected patient.
And the significant losses within Fort Point's arts community are irreparable, damaging the City's reputation as a world-class cultural mecca. Boston's stock of industrial brick and beam buildings of the type and concentration found in Fort Point are completely underutilized when converted into Class B office space to serve as a backwater for the Financial District, yet this process has been facilitated by the City's planning department.
Without question, the BRA's constant approvals of additions and infill for projects that are 100% office space will have a detrimental impact on a total buildout that resembles even a semblance of a Master Plan. The legacy of the BRA's failures in Fort Point will, no doubt, play a harsh role in the multi-decade buildout of the South Boston Waterfront. Because of decisions made today, thirty years from now the South Boston Waterfront will be more akin to Houston and Kendall Square than Sydney (or even Soho, as Archon/Goldman's glossy presentations depicted).
In 1997, the South Boston Waterfront was destined to be a bleak commercial district, with towering corporate offices, hotels and commercial space -- and little or no neighborhood vitality. Ten years later, and after nearly 1000 Bostonians participated in the creation of a South Boston Waterfront Public Realm Plan, the odds of the Seaport having a residential vibrancy are now nearing an impossibility.
So, at ten years of planning and counting, the BRA joins the BCDC, NAIOP, the Boston Chamber of Commerce and Archboston in their architect-driven vision of the South Boston Waterfront -- one that is satisfied as long as there are construction cranes within view, a glass and steel experiment rising, and the community marginalized as NIMBY obstructionists. How shortsighted and disappointing. The fact that Boston's modern architecture requires one apology after another makes the whole affair even more pathetic.
A comprehensive review of the BRA's progress towards achieving a mixed-use Master Plan is under way.
UPDATE 3/11/08: Regarding Summer Street (TWO BUILDINGS)
With the support of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (and contrary to the BRA's stated position reported below in November 2007) the BRA is approving a variance for a party-hat shaped addition on top of a historic building at 316 Summer Street and another historic building at 322 Summer Street for use as office space. The addition had been approved by the BRA in 2007, after a series of public meetings, contingent on the building being developed as a residential condominium.
One public meeting was required by the BRA before allowing the developer to flip the use from residential to office space.
The BRA was asked at the public meeting how the project contributes incrementally toward a broader vision of the district as a mixed use neighborhood. The BRA representative responded (repeatedly) that "The BRA supports economically viable projects." There was no explanation (other than construction jobs and offsite linkage payments) why it was necessary for the BRA to approve an addition above and beyond what the developer originally purchased, given that a straight renovation of 316-322 Summer Street would have been viable as office space -- the district is already 87% office space.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority has confirmed that a variance for 316-322 Summer Street was granted conditional on residential use. Although the property owner may choose to sell 316-322 Summer Street as office space (as-of-right under existing zoning), the BRA's recently approved variance would only be applicable if the building was renovated as a residential condominium by the current owner or a new owner.
UPDATE / A project identified only as "$10M Green Sinkhole"
A $10 million waterfront park located at the Childrens Museum (nearly 3/4 mile from the core of the residential district) has been identified by the BRA as the sole destination for greenspace contributions exacted from a select group of Fort Point developers in exchange for approval of variances for new height and density.
One developer, Berkeley Investments, has been asked to contribute to Childrens Museum Park rather than directed to create a network of pocket parks or civic spaces for its portfolio of office and residential projects throughout the district. Oddly, Childrens Musem Park is 1/2 mile from Berkeley Investments's only residential project (FP3) which, also under construction, will host a BRA-approved multi-story addition over three historic buildings. No parks exist or are planned within 1/2 mile of FP3.
Under a full build condition of the BRA's public realm plans for the District, elderly residents of the FP3 condo will be expected to take a shuttle bus to Childrens Museum Park for an afternoon of sunshine.
Fort Point developers have begun cherry-picking benefits of the 100-Acre planning process, securing and reselling generous variances from the Boston Redevelopment Authority for new construction projects, while abandoning obligations to area Master Plans for a mixed-use urban neighborhood. A new wave of property owners are "flipping" residential buildings for use as office space. At the same time, residential and open space requirements of the 100-Acre Master Planning process and the larger Seaport Public Realm Plan are forgotten or postponed to the twilight zone of "Phase Two".
In a recent example of "flipping for benefits", property owners Archon Group are stating their intention to resell a historic warehouse at 316-322 Summer Street as office space (click here to read Boston Globe). Yet the same Fort Point building was presented by Archon/Goldman to City agencies and the community as a critical residential component of the company's mixed-use "Master Plan" and was subsequently approved by the BRA as a residential condominium (with BRA-approved variances for an addition on top of the historic building). Archon's highly publicized "Master Plan" was touted as a rationale for the BRA's support of a new 180-foot tower over two historic buildings at 319 A Street (one of which would require demolition of a historic warehouse). Archon continues to state its interest in developing this office tower over 319 A Street, while abandoning elements of the company's residential component at 316 Summer Street.
Over the past decade, the BRA's rationale for approving significant variances to property owners has been to ensure the long-term creation of a vibrant mixed-use district. Yet after a decade of planning and rampant development, Fort Point still has no recreational parks, no civic structures, and is barely on track to ever host a critical mass of residential units. The Fort Point district is comprised of buildings at a mix of over 80% office space and less than 20% other uses (residential, retail, artist live/work). And the entire Seaport District has no police station, no fire station, no schools and not even a fraction of the number of residential units (existing, under construction or planned) necessary to support a supermarket.
Only in a planning climate where Master Plans flap in the breeze, would property owners be emboldened to "flip" a BRA-approved residential condominium to a new owner for development as office space -- and all without a single public hearing for the benefit of Fort Point community members who have diligently engaged in the Master Planning process for over a decade.
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