Monday, May 25, 2009

Viewing Deck at 470 Atlantic Ave.

Waterfront site must open to public

State fines owners of wharf building

It was a secret jewel along the waterfront, providing a picturesque view of Boston Harbor and the city's skyline. But according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the historic building at 470 Atlantic Ave. and its public viewing space wasn't supposed to be a secret at all.

The department has fined the owner of the plush Independence Wharf building, at the corner of Seaport Boulevard, more than $21,000 and also issued a series of compliance orders for holding out from the public its grand view of Boston and its harbor, on the site of one the country's largest acts of civil defiance, the Boston Tea Party.

"A renewed commitment on their part is necessary to open this site up to the general public, in a way that provides a public benefit for the city, its residents and our visitors," Glenn Haas, assistant commissioner of the agency, said in a statement.

In addition to the fines, the owner of the building - Independence Wharf LLC - must open up 2,856 square feet of space on the ground floor of the building as a public accommodation. The owner must post proper signage designating the 14th floor, with its observation deck and indoor viewing area, as public space.

The company must also post proper signage outside the building along the Harborwalk encouraging public patronage of the ground floor and viewing deck.

"The current property owners recognize they have a responsibility to provide, and in fact encourage, the general public to access this historic Boston site," Haas said in a statement.

A spokesman for the building's management company, Cushman & Wakefield, said yesterday that management would not comment on the settlement. Independence Wharf LLC is based in Connecticut.

The orders were based on a 2001 license the state granted Independence Wharf LLC allowing it to operate office space at the 14-story structure, which is built on the waterfront. Under state law covering filled tidelands, the state must preserve the public's rights to access natural resources such as the sea and the shore. The 2001 license included a public access agreement based on the law that required the observation deck and ground floor accommodating area.

The agency said it found the violations during a May 2008 inspection. In addition to the fines, the owner must provide, within 30 days, a publicly accessible interior space on the observation deck with signs directing the public to the area. The owner must also submit a plan within 90 days detailing how it will open up the 2,856 square feet to the public, and must complete the plan within six months.

And, the company must pay $35,000 in license fees that it has not paid since the license was granted in 2001. The site is where Samuel Adams and other patriots of the American Revolution boarded three British tea ships in 1773 in a protest of English rule.

Yesterday, a small sign on the Harborwalk alerted passersby that the observation deck is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, instructing anyone interested to "see security guard in lobby for information."

Winston Van Buitenen of Connecticut, and Greg Beck of New York, two businessmen touring the waterfront, said they did not believe the building is public from the look from the outside. "It doesn't present itself that way," said Buitenen.

Matt Pitarresi, 23, of South Boston, said he walks by the building daily to work and other Boston destinations and never knew about the observation deck. "If it's supposed to be public access, it should be," he said. "Anywhere you can get up high and view the city, people appreciate it."

Lynne Stubblefield, a 43-year-old South Boston woman who walks by the building on the way to her job in Charleston, said she has seen been to the observation deck before: when the building had just been renovated. But, "I don't think many people know about it," she said.

"It's a pretty area to look at, there's a lot of stuff to see," Stubblefield said. "People should know about it. It's waterfront property and a lot of people would like to see it."

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