© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

August 11, 2006
The Boston Globe

BRA approves master plan for Fort Point Channel
by Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff

The Boston Redevelopment Authority yesterday largely cleared the way for the development of more than 11 acres of parks and buildings up to 180 feet tall in the reemerging Fort Point Channel area.

The unanimous approval of the Fort Point District 100 Acres Master Plan almost closes a chapter in a long and vigorous debate between City Hall planners and the community over how much density is appropriate for the area.

A final approval is still needed from the Boston Zoning Commission, and the board itself must approve designation of the land as a so- called planned development area, which gives the city flexibility in implementing the development guidelines .

Though many in the community applaud the outcome, some still fear the plan allows too much building.

There is also concern that the flexibility that the Boston Redevelopment Authority included in the plan will be exploited to allow more development later. For example, some buildings slated for 180 feet of maximum height could be taller, if developers provide more parks or other public benefits than they have already promised.

Four large landowners -- Gillette Co., US Postal Service, Archon Group, and Beacon Capital Partners LLC -- are covered by the rules approved yesterday, which applies to the area along the east side of the Fort Point Channel south of Summer Street. It is known as ``the hundred acres" but is actually about 89 acres in size.

Only one person spoke against the plan at yesterday's public hearing. Sarah D. Kelly, executive director of the nonprofit Boston Preservation Alliance, objected to approving the plan before the area was given protection as a historic district by the Boston Landmarks Commission. Designation as a landmark gives the commission authority to review future changes and protect a place's historic character.

Residents have urged the commission to designate the area as a landmark district for about five years and say City Hall has agreed in principle but has been slow to make that happen.

Kelly also criticized a provision that would make it easier for developers to add two floors of new construction atop the historic Boston Wharf Co. warehouses that dominate the area. ``The impact of such additions has not been sufficiently studied," she said, adding that they may detract from the area's historic appearance.

City planners advocating approval of the master plan for the area said those additions will be set back and barely visible from the street. They also said that, though the area still lacks landmark status, future development will be reviewed by the Boston Landmarks Commission anyway, under an agreement with the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Planners defend the plan by saying the private landowners will pay for the parks, streets, and utilities as they redevelop existing buildings and fill in the empty lots with buildings accommodating a variety of uses, ultimately creating a vibrant neighborhood.

Steve Hollinger, cofounder of the community group Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design, praised city planners for guaranteeing a large waterfront park, a connected park extending from the water deep into the newly designed district, and other green space. ``That was the highest priority" for most people who live in the area, he said.

But, Hollinger also said, the city's guidelines give developers authority to build ``too much bulk." Each future building or complex will require individual approval, and, ``We'll have to tackle it one project at a time," he said.

Richard McGuiness, deputy director of waterfront planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said most people in the community are pleased by the city's latest guidelines, hammered out in more than 100 public meetings over five years, as well as through negotiations with the large land owners.

``There's not a large voice out there still saying reduce the density," said McGuiness, who argued that the remaining critics of the plan are few. ``What we're hearing from people is, `Now make it work.' "

The area is eventually expected to see almost 6 million square feet of development, though the current transportation grid can accommodate only about 4 million square feet, which is the amount the board yesterday approved.

At the request of the community, city planners have increased the amount of park land by 20 percent -- about a third of the entire ``hundred acres" will be open space -- and reduced the amount of building space by 10 percent. They also brought the maximum building height down from 280 feet to 180 feet.

About a third of the area is designated for residential use, including approximately 400 units at below-market prices.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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