Wednesday, April 02, 2008

SAND's Response to Melcher St Project

Steve Hollinger from SAND (a community group voicing a public vision for the development of Fort Point as a vibrant, urban neighborhood) wrote a great response to the BRA's stance on the Melcher St project which I wanted to highlight. To be clear, the FPNA doesn't necessarily agree with the BRA's interpretations and most members have great concerns about the project overall, but I believe it's important to post as much information directly from the sources as possible and let residents make up their own minds. In that spirit, here's Steve's response to the BRA's stance on the 49-63 Melcher St project:


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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 fa├žade 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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