In today's Boston Globe, BRA Director Tom O'Brien discussed the importance of residential development within the Seaport District - a position that SAND has strongly advocated in order to foster the growth of a neighborhood. Residential development will also alleviate pressures on South Boston's housing market caused by an influx of new office workers (projected as high as 30,000 - 50,000) to the South Boston waterfront.

Seaport plan to put focus on livability

Residential development a key

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 11/05/98

The city's master plan for the Seaport district will call for extensive residential development - not just office buildings and hotels - and a comprehensive transportation plan to make the area accessible, officials drafting the long-awaited document say.

In addition, developers on the South Boston waterfront will be required to help establish cultural and civic destinations at key spots in the district, such as museums and performance venues, said Thomas N. O'Brien, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which is planning to release the master plan Jan. 1.

The so-called ''working port,'' areas for seafood processing, cargo loading, and light manufacturing, will also be preserved, but confined to the area a few blocks east of D Street and centered around the existing Marine Industrial Park.

Early indications of the major principles of the master plan come as a number of waterfront projects move forward, most recently a proposal by mall developer Steve Karp to build on the parking lot and restaurant site of Anthony's Pier 4. The Chicago-based Pritzker family, which owns property on Fan Pier, is also moving forward with new development plans there.

Those proposals, coupled with the city's relocation of Harborlights and projects by developers Don Chiafaro and Joe Fallon near the entrance to the Ted Williams Tunnel, created concern that the Seaport district was swiftly taking shape before the city could establish planning guidelines.

But O'Brien said, ''Many of these projects won't actually be on the table until after we release the master plan Jan. 1,'' adding that he has been in constant contact with the major landowners on the Seaport, describing the gist of how the city intends to control development there.

The master plan will contain three major themes, O'Brien said. ''The first is that this should be a place that people call home, with a residential character,'' with small-scale blocks and street grids ''more intimate in character,'' similar to the neighborhoods of Back Bay or the South End.

Hotels and office buildings will be a major part of the development of the Seaport - hotels, in particular, around the proposed $700 million convention center on Summer Street - but the city will push for the development of residential complexes on an equal if not greater scale, O'Brien said.

The extent of residential development called for in the master plan will almost certainly become a flashpoint. Developers make more money with hotels and office buildings, and some South Boston political leaders have been opposed to a big influx of high-end housing there.

Secondly, O'Brien said, ''while there are important transportation projects that have put this area on the map'' - such as the proposed Transitway Red Line extension, and the planned interchange where the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Ted Williams Tunnel meet - ''we need to focus on the next generation of transportation projects, to make this a great destination and accessible to people.'' He did not elaborate.

Finally, the master plan, say those familiar with it, will set out a process in which developers will be required to help fund and establish cultural and civic destinations on or near developed property. The Karp proposal for Anthony's Pier 4, for example, might include a maritime museum. The Pritzkers are already in negotiations with city planners to include some kind of civic space, possibly similar to the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, on Fan Pier next to the federal courthouse.

The Pritzkers, owners of the Hyatt hotel chain who withdrew plans for a hotel, residential, and office complex on Fan Pier earlier this year, are readying a new plan and holding meetings with community groups to outline ideas for the prized property, sources say.

In addition, the eastern edge of the Seaport district, around D Street and Jimmy's Harborside restaurant, has also been bustling with cranes and bulldozers. Last month, the city announced the relocation of the Harborlights summer music tent to Wharf 8 beside Fish Pier. Ground was broken the month before on Fidelity's 16-story office tower beside the Seaport hotel. Chiafaro, developer of International Place, is moving ahead with plans for an office complex on Massport property across from the Fidelity building, as is Fallon, with a proposed 400-room hotel and a 90-unit residential complex, next door.

There have also been a series of meetings involving all the major landowners on the waterfront - the Pritzkers, Frank and Jamie McCourt of the McCourt Cos., Massport, and developers who have signed up to build on Massport land - to explore ways to cooperate and integrate development projects.

''I think it's clear the waterfront is moving ahead in a big way. In a sense, it's driving the planning process - but the timing is actually good,'' said Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, an advocacy group.

Others say the Seaport district seems to be taking shape so quickly that there has not been adequate time to get more public input.

''The fact is, Harborlights was relocated without a single public hearing. The BRA seems to have set up a one-stop shopping center at City Hall, where you walk in with your money and you don't have to have hearings,'' said Steve Hollinger, a representative of the Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design. ''We have no big issue with Harborlights, but this has created an atmosphere where we all started thinking, what are we all working for? We should just hang it up.''

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 11/05/98.

© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.