Massport 30-Acre Master Plan Moving Foward

April 23rd is the deadline for public comment on an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) submitted by Massport to the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs regarding a proposed master plan for the development of Commonwealth Flats -- a 30 acre area of Massport property extending westward from the Marine Industrial Park, north of Summer Street. Commonwealth Flats includes a number of parcels already in construction as hotel and office towers for Fidelity Investments, and Parcel F -- a parcel already under review by the EOEA for its proposed developments.

Massport has filed a separate ENF for Parcel F, in a public comment period ending May 24. This parcel is to contain an office tower, hotel tower and luxury residential units. Massport has agreed to a full Article 80 review of Parcel F development.

SAND Comment

We all remember the 1987 plan for Fan Pier proposing four inappropriately scaled office towers and a hotel. That plan was rejected in 1998 and the Pritzkers were sent back to the drawing board.

Massport has submitted a Master Plan for their 30-acre property that resembles the original 1987 Pritzker plan, only in this case the agency can't be sent back to the drawing board because the buildings are either already in the dirt or moving quietly through the approval process. Massport has already dedicated a significant portion of its 30-acre Commonwealth Flats to Fidelity Investments for office and hotel use, and ceased negotiation on a Memorandum of Understanding with the Boston Redevelopment Authority regarding adherence to City zoning and review for all of its real-estate projects.

The Commonwealth Flats Master Plan envisions the 30-acre property as a 3 million square foot buildout on large parcels for future use as offices, hotels, parking garages, luxury residential and retail. Although the projected uses and density may be appropriate for this area of the Seaport District, the Master Plan is surprisingly rudimentary in its crude parcelization -- completely absent of a vision for the public realm. Massport has touted its inclusion of a single large park between the Seaport Hotel and Fidelity Office towers as the extent of its public realm effort. No shadow studies or usage studies for the park are available.

Cultural uses are envisioned at a meager 3-4% of the final build, far less than urban plans typically associated with waterfront plans of this scale -- not to mention the expectations of conventioneers looking for Boston-style attractions beyond a bowl of chowder.

Unfortunately for South Boston, Massport's traffic data and transportation infrastructure projections are also inconsistent with the full buildout envisioned by the BRA in its Public Realm Plan. Notably, Massport ignores the fact that Commonwealth Flats was to serve transitional uses between the MIP and the western portion of the waterfront. The planning context does not even to pretend to consider Massport's own properties outside of Commonwealth Flats.

Because Massport acted independently from the BRA in its planning effort, there was no integration of ideas with other parts of the Seaport District. For example, Massport projects a modest amount of residential growth in the immediate area of Commonwealth Flats -- contrary to the reasonable demands of Marine Industrial Park shipping and trucking concerns. A better integrated planning effort would concentrate commercial projects in Commonwealth Flats while directing housing funds towards a mixed income neighborhood at the western portion of the Seaport District and into the D Street area south of Summer Street.

Essentially, Massport has charted a bleak view of its 30 acres -- devoid of regard for the greater context of an emerging district. Massport's continues to parcel projects to its private business partners to address their specific demands (office/hotel) rather than serving a broad range of interests. This policy may make economic sense for the agency in the near term, but is extremely short-sighted when considering the significant value of 30-acres of waterfront property to the City of Boston.

Harsh criticisms aside, Massport's real estate administration should be commended for agreeing to an Article 80 review of Parcel F and for continuing to improve its relationship with the BRA and neighboring South Boston communities.

SAND will be filing comments on these projects with the EOEA to address specifics. If you would like to submit a comment on this proposal, click here to visit the SAND Calendar.

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