Friday, March 28, 2008

BRA Clarification on Melcher St. Project

FPNA has been working with the BRA to get responses to some of the concerns and questions raised by residents over the 49-63 Melcher St. Project (Project details available on the Project Page on the BRA's site).

"As of Right"
At the meeting Tony Goldman and his architect said a number of times that their project as "as of right". I contacted Kristin Kara, the Project Manager from the BRA, and she was very helpful and clarified the BRA's position.

She said that while Goldman had called the project "as of right", those weren't her words and it's not how she would describe things, as this is part of a PDA rather than part of the zoning process. She said a more accurate way to put it is that the BRA considers the project consistent with the 100 Acres PDA (a PDA, or Planned Development Area, is a section of the city, like Fort Point, where the BRA has put aside normal zoning rules and instead imposed special guidelines just for this district). I asked specifically about the way the plan deals with its additional height and infill and she said the BRA considers both consistent with the PDA.

There remains an open question of how the BRA is going to make progress on the overall objectives for the neighborhood, like open space and a critical mass of residential development, will be achieved. This was raised to the the BRA's new Director, John Palmieri, by FPNA and other neighborhood groups at a meeting with him two weeks ago and the BRA is looking at ways to have the elements of the plan the community is excited for concurrent with those favorable to developers' bottom lines. This was part of the reason the comment period for the project was extended.

Wind
There were also a number of residents concerned about wind in the street behind the building (Necco Ct). A wind study was done, though it was qualitative, not quantitative, as there weren't significant wind changes expected. Kristin put me in touch with someone from the BRA who has more expertise with wind studies. The wind expert looked through the study and posed some questions to Frank Durgin, the engineer who performed the study. She felt the study was appropriate and well done, and she was very confident that there wouldn't be significant changes given the direction of the wind and the current levels. One point she made was that, on Necco Court, the wind currently swirls in the voids in the building. After the in-fills are put in, the wind should go up and over the building (in part because of the design of the tops of the additions) which should reduce the wind on the street level.

While these are not the only concerns residents raised, I appreciate the BRA getting back to us and clarifying their position on these items.

2 comments:

  1. Whether the BRA representative stated "a variance is not needed" for a building addition on top of a historic building instead of Archon/Goldman's assertions "as of right" is a distinction without a difference, since our ears had never heard either of these positions before.

    That was the first time in Fort Point's 100+ year history that anyone (even seasoned community members who participated on the BRA's Fort Point Advisory Committee in the 100-Acre planning process) had ever heard that additions on top of historic buildings would be allowable without the due process we were accustomed to over the past ten years.

    As for consistency, the BRA's statements are entirely inconsistent with what we were told during the 100-Acre process. We were ensured that the PDA would capture ALL of the elements of the 100-Acre plan including public realm components, and that the PDA would ensure that the 100-Acre process would unfold incrementally -- not phased according to the whims of the market.

    We were never told about future "cooperation agreements" and other agreements that would somehow have to be retroactively tied back to the height and density captured in the PDA to ensure development of critical greenspace, civic space and cultural space along with commercial projects. Unfortunately, that is what we are hearing today, while the developers capture valuable height and density "as of right" without the need for zoning variances.

    The 100 Acre PDA has effectively replaced the former zoning, and the developers have begun reaping the rewards without fulfilling the promise of the residential devlopment, the parks and civic spaces expressed in the 100-Acre plan.

    On a more technical level, our (limited) conversations regarding rooftop additions during the 100-Acres process didn't discuss or support the aggregation of square footage across three buildings, as proposed by Archon/Goldman. And, although I'm not a lawyer, in my reading of the PDA, it makes no allowances for aggregation of building square footage.

    The wind studies are troubling because they displayed a willingness to see the project swiftly approved. The current articulation of historic light wells on Necco Court are among the most beautiful in the neighborhood, and surely moderate windflow. Of course, it’s impossible for us to argue with a wind "expert" when we question the premise of a stark block-long façade of newly infilled masonry behind Melcher Street. Approximately 79 historic windows on Necco Court will be filled in. This is a stunningly mediocre bit of architecture -- as was pointed out during the community meeting by one of Fort Point's renown urban planners.

    These few details suggest why it is important for the BRA’s statements put into the context of the past decade of planning -- not absent the experience many in Fort Point have shared in expressing an “urban neighborhood vision”. We can’t be expected to respond to blog pages on every site, so I’d recommend a visit to www.bostonseaport.com.

    Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in.

    Steve Hollinger

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  2. Great post. Thanks for taking the time to respond, Steve. I hope you don't mind, but I took it as-is and posted it so it wouldn't get buried as a comment.

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