Update 11/17/99: SAND files PNF comments (to read click here)

November 4, 1999

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has given the green-light to Boston Wharf Company plans to demolish three stunningly beautiful, turn-of-the-century brick and beam industrial buildings on Stillings Street in the historic Fort Point Neighborhood. The Boston Wharf Company is proposing to build a 95' tall parking garage with two floors of office space on the site.

The BRA was complicit in allowing the developer to proceed through a Boston Landmark Commission hearing which approved demolition -- without notification to either SAND or FPAC, the two community groups in the Fort Point neighborhood. The Landmarks Commission approved demolition in a 5 to 4 vote.

Although the developer has already received approval for demolition absent of public comment, the BRA is now seeking public comment on the design of the parking garage. For more info on how you can comment (encouraged!!), see the SAND Calendar.

November 4, 1999

Ms. Susan Hannon
The Boston Redevelopment Authority
City Hall 9th Floor
Boston, MA 02201

Dear Ms. Hannon:

On behalf of the Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND), I would like to register our disappointment with you and the Boston Redevelopment Authority for disregarding an important community process and for the negative and permanent historic implications of decisions that have accelerated erosion of South Boston's historic Fort Point neighborhood. Members of the community are just beginning to come to terms with your office's recent actions regarding Boston Wharf Company plans to demolish its turn-of-the-century industrial buildings on Stillings Street in order to build a new parking garage.

These buildings, constructed in 1907, are handsome and sound representations of the brick-and-beam industrial architecture that defines the entire Fort Point neighborhood. They are well within the boundary of a geographical territory that the Boston Redevelopment Authority itself identifies as the "Fort Point Historic Subdistrict" in its South Boston Waterfront Public Realm Plan (SB-PRP). The area is also identified as the "Fort Point Historic Subdistrict" in the BRA's recently scoped Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP). Surely it was no oversight for Boston Wharf Company to misidentify this area as the "Fort Point Waterfront District" in its Project Notification Form (PNF) submitted for your consideration as project manager.

We became aware of this demolition proposal on October 26th upon receipt of a letter of the same day from the attorneys for Boston Wharf Company. This letter notified us of an Article 80 public meeting which you approved and attended, to be held days later on November 1st. At this meeting, it was made clear that community notification was not possible. Upon the request of the few attendees and a letter from SAND, the proponent hastily rescheduled a second meeting for Tuesday November 9th, which we are now doing our best to publicize.

Earlier today, we learned that a Boston Landmark Commission hearing occured on October 12th. Your office was aware of the Stillings Street project prior to this hearing, yet no attempt was made to inform the community and, as we have learned, no community testimony occured. We have been informed that at this hearing the Landmark Commission asked whether the proponent had sought community input. It is our understanding that the proponent responded to the Landmarks Commission that that the community was not concerned with the demolition of these buildings. In a close vote of 5 to 4, the Landmark Commission approved both demolition and a waiver of delay in order to expedite demolition.

You were made aware of citywide support for preservation of Fort Point's historic buildings as a result of your involvement with the 343 Congress Street project earlier this year. You are also familiar with SAND and our work on behalf of the Fort Point area, much of it chronicled at seaportalliance.org. It is troubling that your office did not find it appropriate to have the developer notify at least a few members of the community, allowing time for some architectural research and/or to state a position to the Boston Landmarks Commission. The community was not even sent a copy of the Project Notification Form (PNF) until one was requested on November 1st.

A number of other issues are troubling. At the November 1st meeting, I understand that Boston Wharf Company Attorney Timothy Culver made some statements in your presence that have not proven accurate. Mr. Culver stated that Boston Wharf had reached agreement with the tenants of the building regarding relocation. He further asserted that Boston Wharf representatives had discussed this project in depth with our elected officials (Council President Kelly, Senator Lynch, Rep. Hart) during regular and frequent meetings, and that they were well informed about the project. The statement regarding tenants was a gross misrepresentation - one which will be addressed by the Fort Point Arts Community (FPAC). Based on feedback we are receiving regarding these tenants, we are concerned that the proponent has not been forthcoming regarding discussions with our elected officials.

Please understand that this letter represents a chorus of voices that are once again registering concern on our SAND website. Clearly, people are disatisfied with the continual parade of BRA approvals long before the public is engaged. In this instance, Boston Wharf Company was able secure demolition approvals without any historic considerations registered by public interest or community groups. While many Bostonians, filmakers and tourists continue to photograph and document our historic area, recent BRA decisions including this one facilitate the erosion of this pristine example of America's historic industrial past. One would have expected that Stillings Street - with buildings quite sound and suitable for creative reuse - would not simply be a casualty of a faulty process.

We understand that there is no appeal for the demolition decision. At this point, for historic record, we ask you to request that the Boston Wharf Company correctly identify the area as the "Fort Point Historic Subdistrict" throughout the PNF and in all further filings. We will file comments on the PNF with you by the November 19 deadline. We hope to meet with you again to discuss the BRA's seemingly limited resolve in matching development proposals to the intent of the two year South Boston Waterfront Public Realm Planning effort.

Let me know if I can provide any assistance.
Steve Hollinger
on behalf of
The Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND)
Phone 617-338-2222 (direct, personal)
Fax 617-338-2223 (direct, personal)
SAND Office 617-423-4299 (answering machine)
cc: Mr. Paul McCann, Acting Director, BRA
Mr. John C. Bowman III, Chairman, Boston Landmarks Commission
Ms. Ellen Lipsey, Executive Director, Boston Landmarks Commission
City Council President Jim Kelly
State Senator Stephen F. Lynch
Representative Jack Hart
Mr. Anthony Gilardi, Mayor's Office Neighborhood Coordinator
Ms. Becky Dwyer (FPAC)
Boston Preservation Alliance

Your comments as a visitor to the SAND website would be appreciated and forwarded for discussion.