SAND has responded to a Project Notification Form (PNF) submitted to the BRA for consideration of proposed renovations by the developer/owner of the recently purchased brick building at 343 Congress Street (originally constructed as a horse stable in the late 1800's). The deadline for public comment on the proposed renovations is April 3rd, 1999.
- Ms. Susan Hannon
- Senior Project Manager
- The Boston Redevelopment Authority
- One City Hall Plaza
- Boston, MA 02201
- Regarding: 343 Congress Street PNF
- owner/proponent: Intercontinental Fund II
Dear Ms. Hannon:
- The Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND) has been an active participant in the planning of the South Boston Seaport District. SAND members have worked diligently to represent a collective voice of residents and business owners in the waterfront development dialog.
We stress the importance of a "neighborhood" perspective to developers; specifically the need to retain and amplify the character of the immediate community. To this degree, we continue to respond to development proposals in an attempt to better shape each project, not only for its own benefit but to also reflect and respond to the needs of the entire community.
The proposed renovations to 343 Congress St. require this type of attention, especially in light of the recently published Seaport District Public Realm Plan. Noting PNF section 2.2.1 ["no historic district exists within the immediate vicinity..."], the building's brick facade is among the most interesting in the area (photographs attached), complementing the historic Fort Point Fire Station Museum across the street and the Children's Museum one block to the west.
In SAND's initial comments presented to Mr. O'Brien and the BRA at the Children's Museum on January 26, 1998 (itemized summary attached), we identified our ideals for the historic Fort Point neighborhood. These ideals include preservation and reuse of the wonderful turn-of-the-century brick warehouse facades, development of neighborhood amenities (housing, convenience retail, open space). We also identified this area by its creative population, a vital -but endangered community of artists. Our comments regarding development of 343 Congress St. are framed by this original SAND mission.
Regarding public process:
The proponent has been willing to work with interested area residents, to meet with the impacted neighbors, and to contact SAND to answer questions. We expect that the proponent will continue to interact and respond to community needs.
The proponent will present this proposal at public meeting on April 5th. Unfortunately, due to the PNF deadline, our comments to the BRA can not reflect this review.
Regarding the proposed fifth floor addition:
The proposed fifth floor addition is well-designed and is viewed by SAND as a modest, elegant and modern addition that does not detract from the historic building on which it is built.
There are two issues of concern regarding this particular addition that require attention, namely the shadow/light impacts on the Artists Cooperative at 300 Summer St. and the precedent set by this project in increasing heights within the district.
As stated earlier, the Fort Point Artists Community presents an intrinsically valuable function to Boston and to the emerging Seaport District. Although many view the free market as a best-measure of success for an evolving area, this system does not know how to create the vital atmosphere for artists to coexist - the BRA must recognize and attend to this fragile relationship.
Secondly, with regard to the height of this addition, SAND does not find it egregious but we are wary of a negative precedent. The developer (and others within the district) should be forwarned that SAND will adamantly oppose further additions which are detrimental to the overall integrity and character of the historic neighborhood.
To sum up our expectation of the BRA on this issue, we expect the BRA to require that the proponent work with impacted tenants in the Artists Cooperative to achieve successful mitigation of shadow/light issues. Furthermore, we would ask for proper attention to incremental height increases within the Fort Point Channel neighborhood.
Regarding appropriate use:
When this building was acquired by Intercontinental, our understanding was that the building would be redeveloped for residential use. Our discussions were not prompted by direct communications with the proponent, but information regarding the future of 343 Congress Street seemed to arrive at SAND from legitimate sources.
The 343 Congress Street PNF, however, does not address a "neighborhood" plan. The proponent of this project has determined that office space with first floor retail is its best use, following the recent trend set by the Boston Wharf Company. This and a number of Fort Point Channel neighborhood renovations to "first class back-office" space are occuring in the months prior to anticipated BRA zoning changes for the Public Realm Plan. In this $7 million renovation, the proponent has determined that the project should simply contribute $60,000 to the City Housing and Job Linkage program in accordance with Article 80.
SAND has advocated for residential development in the Seaport District, and in the Fort Point Channel neighborhood. The booming economy of the past decade has created a climate for rampant development of office/retail projects but little interest in supporting Boston's critical housing demands. In essence, developers view Boston as a place to work and shop, and the suburbs outside the City as places to live. We do not agree with this trend.
Furthermore, the Seaport District Public Realm Plan, the result of a year-long planning process through which the BRA recognized the importance of the Fort Point neighborhood, supports our pursuit of residential growth. The plan discusses a 40% residential requirement for new construction and an affordability component.
We expect this developer to include a residential component in this project, reflecting the anticipated zoning changes for the area. We also expect that the first floor retail address the needs of the community, including convenience retail, not the exclusive boutiques or fast-food franchise operations as demonstrated by other developers on this block of Congress Street.
Given Boston's urgent need for residential development, and the unprecedented energy put into the Master Plan process, SAND expects the BRA to show resolve on this matter. This developer needs to step up to the plate to provide residential accommodation, as will others in the future. At your request, we will host a public forum to demonstrate additional support for our long-stated position on residential growth.
Although SAND is an active participant in the South Boston Traffic Study (sponsored by the BTD) now underway, we do not have the facilities to determine whether the proposed project adequately mitigates for traffic or parking-related impacts. At these meetings, issues related to Congress Street and A Street, including the marked increase in congestion, has been noted - participation may be beneficial to the proponent.
The project certainly benefits from recent public improvements in infrastructure. The Silver Line T stop under construction at New Northern Avenue will provide an excellent connection to this facility, easier for pedestrians than South Station. Access to this site will also be facilitated by the reconstruction of the Congress Street Bridge two blocks to the west and on completion of Central Artery connections four blocks to the east.
Regarding miscellaneous renovations
SAND appreciates the need for internal and external renovations to support the proponent's successful enterprise. In general, the architect has been protective and respectful of the building and its environment. The majority of the exterior changes hilight the original facade. Even minor changes, however, can transform or impede the growth of a neighborhood.
For example, the existing building is detailed with hand-crafted wood, multi-pane glass windows, contributing a significant element of character to the industrial facade (see photographs). Neighborhoods thrive on workers and residents having the ability to open windows, to put flowers on the ledge, and (often in Fort Point) to yell to a friend on the street.
The 343 Congress St. proposal, however, insulates all upper floors from street activity. The proponent has indicated that the building will be retrofitted with office-style windows, typically large, single pane glass to support air conditioning. As Boston Wharf has regretfully demonstrated through recent renovations on Melcher and Summer Street, cost savings occur by installing inoperable windows with a single blank pane. The result of this type of construction is a lifeless facade and a souless walkway below.
We note an intent by the architect of the 343 Congress project to decorate the existing, highly-crafted multi-pane windows [refer to illustration on cover of PNF]. Disappointingly, these details are not the stated intent of the proponent and that may be a further indication of the latitude required by the proponent for a cost-effective renovation. We concede this as a minor point, but stress that a walk beneath a building with single pane office-style windows is a significantly different experience than a summer walk on a city sidewalk with open windows and interaction above.
We ask that the proponent to attend to these details in the renovation and will report updates to your attention.
Regarding appropriate use in anticipation of new zoning as envisioned by the BRA Seaport District Public Realm Plan, SAND would expect a mix of residential units, office space and retail.
Regarding design, SAND is supportive of the majority of architectural additions proposed by this PNF, with minor requests for revision and attention to detail on the existing facade.
SAND expects the proponent to adequately mitigate for parking and traffic impacts.
We at SAND appreciate the resolve that the BRA and Mayor Menino have demonstrated in the Seaport District dialog over these past months. We look forward to working with you and the proponent to move forward on this project.
- Steve Hollinger
- on behalf of:
- The Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND)
Note regarding recusal of SAND members:
A number of SAND members are residents of 300 Summer St., a building directly impacted by the proponent's PNF. To eliminate potential conflicts, we have asked these SAND members to recuse themselves from our internal discussions regarding this PNF. These individuals have indicated their intent to file comments separately.
Your comments as a visitor to the SAND website would be appreciated and forwarded for discussion.