Master Plan: East Boston Workshop Tackles Waterfront Development

During the last process that updated East Boston’s Master Plan in the late 1990s, the public comments to the city regarding waterfront development couldn’t be more different than today.

Back then residents at the time called for a fully developed waterfront arguing the Eastie had sat idle while the waterfronts in South Boston, Charlestown and the North End got all the attention. Residents wanted the Designated Port Areas (DPA) removed, old industrial waterfront wastelands turned into residential development and harborwalks and more luxury housing, or as one resident put it back then ‘unaffordable’ housing.

Boy, have times changed.

At a PLAN: East Boston workshop at East Boston High School last Thursday evening that tackled the issue of waterfront development and DPAs, the Boston Planning and Development Agency collected comments from residents vested in the process of changing the zoning across Eastie.

Comments ranged from ‘there’s too much development we don’t need more’ to ‘the waterfront should be preserved and used as open space’ to ‘the DPAs at the Shipyard and Marina on Marginal Street should be preserved’.

While there’s a growing chorus of voices opposed to any further development in Eastie, because old two, and three families are razed and turned into six or nine-unit buildings–the waterfront and DPAs may be ripe to absorb the neighborhood’s growing population.

At the workshop, some residents were more open minded and want to have an honest discussion about DPAs and their restrictive uses.

Some residents argue that one way of eliminating large scale developments in quiet residential neighborhoods is to remove many of the DPA and build large in those areas instead of Eagle Hill, Jeffries Point or Orient Heights.

Like Pier One, the Eddy, Clippership Wharf and Boston East the DPAs outside of Central Square near Liberty Plaza or along Condor Street could accommodate larger, more dense development while addressing sea-level rise and increasing the number of commercial opportunities around the waterfront.

Some at the meeting called for a dramatic shrinking of the number of DPAs along Eastie’s 15 miles of coastline.

Also some argue that private investment into DPAs and the neighborhood’s waterfront is really the only way to protect against sea level rise. Those residents argue that more development should be allowed by private investors but with a catch. If the DPA’s are opened up for large-scale development those same investors must include climate resiliency measures into their design. While any development along the water’s edge would require public open space and a continuation of Eastie’s harborwalk, these parks could become barriers that keep sea water out of Eastie in the future.

Some at the meeting were realistic that it would cost the city or state hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to protect against sea level rise–money the city and state most likely do not have.

With private investment into DPAs and strict BPDA regulations could translate into the start of a continuous barrier that once and for all protects Eastie from sea level rise.

Last summer, Mayor Martin Walsh announced Eastie was chosen as one of five neighborhoods that will be part of the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s planning initiative as part of an Imagine Boston 2030 effort to ‘preserve, enhance and grow’ the neighborhood. 

As part of PLAN: East Boston the city has been working closely with community groups, community leaders and other stakeholders here to ensure decisions made by the city are following the guiding principles of “preserves wisely, enhances equitably, and grows inclusively” when it comes to revamping the zoning across the neighborhood.

As part of the initiative in Eastie comprehensive planning has included a focus on balancing contextually sensitive development alongside preservation. There is also a focus on supporting existing residents and businesses through increased access to opportunity, affordability strategies, and anti-displacement policies.

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