Draft Recommendations for Waterfront and Evolving Industrial Areas Released

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

As part of PLAN: East Boston, a planning initiative that touches on aspects such as zoning, design guidelines, and more, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a community meeting on Tuesday, July 18, to share draft recommendations for the neighborhood’s waterfront and evolving industrial areas in the inner harbor. 

“After decades of economic disinvestment, recent development trends have transformed limited portions of East Boston’s waterfront; however, much of the area remains physically and economically disconnected from the East Boston community,” said Kristina Ricco, a Senior Planner with the BPDA.

“Our greatest priority in developing these recommendations was to identify opportunities to reestablish those physical and economic connections to the local community,” she added.

During the meeting, it was revealed that data from the geography the recommendations focus on suggests that degraded ecological conditions, vulnerability to coastal and inland flooding, limited publicly accessible open space, limited public waterfront access, and more mar these areas.

To address the issues mentioned above, the BPDA has planning priorities for East Boston’s waterfront and evolving industrial areas.

These priorities include banning heavy impact uses and ensuring that remaining production land is preserved for uses that support essential economic activity, appropriately transitioning building scale, encouraging adaptive reuse of existing structures, and advancing coastal resilience infrastructure, per Ricco.

Other priorities Ricco spoke about were, increasing open space and public access to the waterfront, along with improving transit access.

Further, the meeting focused on recommendations for three specific areas in East Boston, the  Marginal and Sumner Street inner harbor waterfront, Border Street and the inner harbor waterfront, and Condor Street and the Lower Chelsea Creek waterfront.

However, before getting into the BPDA’s recommendations for the three areas mentioned, Ricco noted that waterfront planning is made more complicated because of state-level jurisdictions.

“The city and the state both help determine allowed uses and building size in special districts identified by the state,” said Ricco.

“I referred to this previously as a sort of regulatory lasagna that actually ends up happening where state-level regulations superseded or take priority over municipal regulations,” she added.

The top layer of that “regulatory lasagna” is designated port areas (DPAs), of which East Boston has two — the East Boston DPA and the Chelsea Creek DPA.

These state-level regulations were designed “to protect jobs and businesses that depend on waterfront access by restricting allowed activities to water-dependent industrial uses,” according to Ricco.

The first area up for discussion was the Marginal and Sumner Street inner harbor waterfront. Specifically, the area includes properties primarily between Marginal Street and the inner harbor shoreline stretching from the end of Marginal at Porzio Park all the way to the end of Sumner at LoPresti Park.

Though a continuous harbor walk through the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina to Porzio Park is only possible with changes to the East Boston DPA, there are recommendations to remedy this with improvements to Marginal Street.

On the public right-of-way portion of Marginal, there is a proposal for traffic calming and adding things like bike lanes and a speed hump. The BPDA also is proposing to extend the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway.

“What’s really neat about this idea here is that we have enough space to continue the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway from its current endpoint at the intersection of Marginal and Orleans. We could continue it along the southern edge — the park edge — of Marginal,” said Nick Schmidt of the BPDA.

There are also other recommendations to enhance connections across Marginal, connecting Jeffries Point to the waterfront area, such as improving intersections and adding green infrastructure.

Moreover, the BPDA is recommending that the city, Massport, and tenants of the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina explore safety, connectivity, and accessibility improvements along and across Marginal for a better-connected harbor walk in conjunction with a master investment plan that is going forward.

Finally, the BPDA recommends delivering coastal resilience infrastructure for this area at key locations like Carlton Wharf and Lewis Mall.

The next area discussed was the Border Street inner harbor waterfront. The area includes properties between Border Street and the inner harbor shoreline from the end of New Street at LoPresti Park to the Condor Street Overlook.

One of the recommendations for the area is to consolidate some of the waterfront zoning districts to a mixed-use waterfront subdistrict.

“This subdistrict would allow for residential, commercial, and institutional uses at heights and densities that respond to contemporary building types,” said Ricco.

It should be noted that Ricco indicated that these zoning changes would still be superseded by DPAs until there are changes to those regulations.

Other proposals include public realm improvements, such as adding bike lanes to Border Street and a median that could house trees or space for stormwater retention.

Finally, the Condor Street and the lower Chelsea Creek waterfront area was analyzed. The area goes from the McArdle Bridge to the Chelsea Street Bridge, containing properties between Condor Street, East Eagle Street, and the Chelsea Creek waterfront.

Some of the recommendations for this area include formalizing Nay Street and potentially extending it if there is redevelopment of sites in the area, as well as relaxing the allowed uses of a local industrial subdistrict in the area. There were also recommendations to improve the McArdle Bridge, including adding separated bike lanes.

To learn more about the recommendations from this meeting, you can visit https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/plan-east-boston to view the meeting’s recording and presentation.

The link also provides information on a virtual meeting scheduled for August 9 for the next part of the BPDA’s draft recommendations concerning waterfront and evolving industrial areas, which will focus on the Chelsea Creek.

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