Developer looks to put residential units on narrow rail line in East Boston that's gone unused for decades

Narrow-gauge proposal

Narrow-gauge proposal.

A strip of land up Jeffries Point that was once used to ferry millions of riders a year between the East Boston waterfront, Revere Beach and Lynn could become a series of five apartment and condo buildings under a developer's proposal.

MG2 says it has an agreement to purchase the so-called narrow-gauge lots, which stretch from the back of the Boston Harbor Shipyard on Webster Street up to Maverick Street, from the Ascolillo family, which has owned them for more than 50 years. The lots are connected by a two-track train tunnel under Sumner and Webster streets, the mouth of which is still visible from behind the shipyard (the tracks and other equipment were removed long ago).

MG2, which already has several other projects in the work in East Boston, has proposed five buildings between three and six stories with a total of 100 residential units and 90 parking spaces. Its proposal also calls for a new public walkway up and down the hill alongside the buildings.

MG2 has yet to file plans with the BPDA, but has been talking to the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association about the proposal for several months now.

Nearby residents and City Councilor Lydia Edwards will discuss the proposal at a meeting on Monday, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Zumix, 260 Sumner St.

The Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad started up in 1875, using tracks narrower than those used by most other railroads.

By 1914, the railroad was carrying some 7 million riders a year, on tracks that went from the East Boston waterfront all the way up to Lynn. By 1940, though, it was defunct. The state eventually used part of the right of way to extend the Blue Line to Wonderland in Revere.

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What about reactivating the

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What about reactivating the rail line for transit somehow (buses, tram, something!) and building housing about it air-right' style?

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Voting is closed. 39

I'm all for restoring and

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I'm all for restoring and expanding transit. But in this case, I don't think it makes sense.

The shipyard is not s major destination, like it was when passengers from Lynn caught the ferry there. And the right-of-way just goes a few blocks, and then is cut off by the airport.

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Voting is closed. 26

but

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but where would it go?

I had to look where this is because I thought it was closer to Maverick Square (where the rest of the narrow guage was)

Nope.. this is a small section that doesn't really connect to anything.. Airport/Park on one side, water front on the other end. Not real useful for anything transit related.

Even if it was closer to the airport it would be... but its not. Maybe an alternative would be a park like the EBG but that's only 2 blocks away and is far better.

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6 stories? 5 stories? On a

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6 stories? 5 stories? On a hill. They gotta have those water views.
A “new” Public walkway
Meaning a brand new street
with a new sewer system , underground electrical wire system
New sidewalks etc. a new street name . who pays for all this entire public walkway the city of Boston or the developer?.

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The developer pays the

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The developer pays the capital costs of infrastructure. Property taxes pay to maintain it. It's how things get built everywhere.

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Relax, this doesn’t say

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Relax, this doesn’t say anything about putting in a whole new street. It’s a WALKWAY, strictly for pedestrians.

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Of course it will be a new

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Of course it will be a new public street with light poles sidewalks etc.

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5 or 6 story buildings on a

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5 or 6 story buildings on a walkway
You mean no access for fire trucks??
Just a walkway for pedestrians.
I got to see this when it’s done.

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Really?

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You live in East Boston and can't figure out this project is four separate parcels, on fairly major streets? The walkway would go up the hill.

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Completely inane idea

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Transit for who to where exactly? Those millions of riders decades ago were heading to a bustling waterfront that had thousands of jobs, a situation that no longer exists.

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No, no, and no

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The existing Blue Line is a frayed travesty. Fix the existing system first

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Interesting...

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I always wondered who owned the land on top of the tunnel -- and by extension the tunnel itself. I wonder why the Ascolillo family bought it all those years ago. The BRB&L's assets were all sold at bankruptcy auction shortly after service ended in 1940.

This proposal appears to cover the strip of land above the tunnel, plus a stretch of right-of-way extending northeastward to Maverick Street. It doesn't seem to include any of the former ferry docks or rail yards along Marginal Street, which for years were part of the adjacent shipyard.

The southwest portal of the tunnel is still intact and visible from the harbor, or from the shipward land, now the home of Downeast Cider House. For years access to it was restricted by the shipyard owners.

The northeast portal was intact and visible from Everett Street maybe 30 years ago, but someone filled it in with dirt. For a while you could still see the top of the tunnel arch, although according to Google Street View, it is no longer visible.

The tunnel itself is still theoretically intact. I say theoretically because one of the abutting brick rowhouses, at 233 Webster Street, had to be taken down for structural reasons, again maybe 30 years ago. For years before that, it had been boarded up and you could see cracks in the wall adjoining the tunnel property. According to Google Street View, the house next door (235 Webster) is still intact and occupied, but 233 is a driveway now. So there may well have been some subsidence in the tunnel itself. I'm not sure I'd want to try walking through it.

I hope the developers will either fill in or shore up the tunnel before building on top of it!

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Interesting. I had assumed

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Interesting. I had assumed the East Boston Greenway was the BRB&L row, but I guess that was a different rail line ending at a different ferry.

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A house on Sumner street next to the tunnel

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461 Sumner street has also been in danger of collapse for years. If you look at it on Google street view you'll see how it leans severely towards the tunnel lot next to it. A structural engineer told the owners of that property that the reason it is falling towards the empty lot is because the tunnel under that lot is not structurally sound, and that if the developers destabilize the tunnel further, their house may collapse. I honestly have a hard time envisioning how they can build safely over that tunnel, and the developers still havenot definitively said they can, or how they plan to do so.

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Complete background on the tunnel

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Charles -- An Impressively detailed and very thorough background on the tunnel except --

You missed the reuse potential of the tunnel for:

  • urban mushroom farm
  • wine barrel aging rooms
  • cheese cave

I don't think any of the above exist inside the core of Boston

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If you look at a satellite

If you look at a satellite map, there's a narrow strip of undeveloped land extending back from the shipyard over the abandoned tunnel. I've always heard that it was preserved because it wasn't possible to build a stable foundation over the tunnel. Perhaps that's not true after all?

What will become of the historic tunnel with this proposal?

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Pro tip

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Not everything that is old is historic. And not everything that happens for the first time is an "historic" event.

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We'll see who's laughing when

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We'll see who's laughing when I auction off my historic Chumbawamba CDs!

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I live on Webster Street

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I live on Webster Street right by the abandoned lot, I’ve always wondered about the stretch until I was told about the tunnel underneath. I can’t imagine building on top of it and less they go in and fill the tunnel up.
In 2011 a girl was raped on the Webster a lot and now the city makes sure it’s kept mowed.

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Lydia Edwards will find a way

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Lydia Edwards will find a way to oppose this. The next housing development she supports will be the first. Ironic since much of her support comes from new Eastie residents who see her as progresive, not knowing she wants any newbies gone.

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East Boston families who have

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East Boston families who have lived in East Boston for generations have waited too darn long for new development and change of the neighborhood landscape that’s been neglected for the longest time, and now there are newbies who come out of nowhere who want to slow development down for reasons that can’t be understood.

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The BRB&L

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The BRB&L is probably one of the least known entities in Boston transit history. (The Globe has some archival photographs here, another page here, and several books.) It was the original Blue Line to Lynn, running to Point of Pines and on to Lynn. Often called the Narrow Gauge, it operated a three foot railroad gauge, one of the last lines in the US to do so, and was unique in that it electrified the line in 1927. It wasn't a streetcar line, it wasn't a mainline railroad; it was sort of a cross between a rapid transit line and an interurban. In Winthrop the line operated at-grade, although in places it swung in to the harbor on causeways (which still exist today). They Lynn terminal was where Eastern Bank's building is today.

More than anything, it was probably the opening of the Sumner Tunnel which sank the railroad, which combined with the effects of the depression caused its abandonment in 1940. Had it made it two more years, it probably would have profited from wartime ridership and may have lasted in to the MTA era (1947). As it was, the MTA took over the BRB&L for the Blue Line extension to Wonderland, but never revived service to Lynn or Winthrop. Winthrop, in fact, spurned service from BERy and instead extended a private bus contract, which is why, to this day, Winthrop isn't served by MBTA buses, although the buses do receive some subsidy and have only recently been operated with MBTA-branded buses and fare media, although still operated by Paul Revere Transit.

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This area of land needs to be

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This area of land needs to be a community garden ,park, urban farm, etc..like we have in other lower income parts of the city. Some sort of community land share. Eastie Doesmt need apartments and condos built That will ultimately bring nothing to the residence who already live here and are being displaced

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Please think about why they

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Please think about why they are being displaced. Every new unit built is one less existing unit that gets gentrified.

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Every new unit built is one

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Every new unit built is one less existing unit that gets gentrified.

Except for the fact that all they build in Eastie is luxury condos at absurd rents and the rest of the rents are, perforce, being driven up and displacing friends, neighbors, families. Local small businesses are pushed out of buildings that are going to be turned into luxury units too, if developers have anything to say about it. Which they do. And they have a grudging and paltry number of units that low and median income people can actually afford.

tl;dr -- not all development is beneficial development

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If you don't build units at

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If you don't build units at all price points, including high, they'll just buy up your triple deckers and convert them into condos. People are coming either way because Eastie is highly desirable. Build them what they need so they don't take what is yours.

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Oh Really?

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You do realize that this is privately owned, developable land not municipal or government owned property that typically gets converted to parks and open space - right? Just because it’s vacant doesn’t make it a “park”. You could always offer to buy it for market value and build your own park I suppose.

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It’s called a community land

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It’s called a community land trust. They exist all over America. As a matter of fact I can think of 4 existing in Boston.

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Good thought in theory

But Eastie development isn't all waterfront and vacant lots. For every one of these buildings, there's an existing home either being gutted and turned into condos nobody currently living in the neighborhood can afford. Or one earmarked to be demolished and replaced by one of these monstrosities.

Rents are also increasing in old stock, sometimes modestly due to landlords simply covering for overhead increases, and sometimes significantly because market rates are insanely overinflated thanks to new development.

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Not always lower income

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Thomas -- why do you condemn areas of the city to 'Lower income" -- i.e. below standard state

There is no reason at all why a part of the city with water views, access to transit and just outside of a "World Class" International Airport will stay in an underdeveloped state

40 years ago people were raiding brick and brownstones in the South End for copper pipes and wiring -- a couple of blocks from Symphony Hall . The resultant shells burned or sold for a few thousand dollars. Today an upgraded one of them is a million dollars throw in some Quartz Counter Tops and you'd top $2M for each one of say 3 or 4 Condos. That's a thousand to one change in fortunes in less than a lifetime.

Back to Eastie -- you work for a business with connections around the world or you are a business which does its business around the world -- seems like an ideal place to live and work.

There are few place in the World with walk to access to London, Paris, Deutschland, Scandinavia, Iceland, Central America, South America, China, Japan, and next year Korea and a couple more years for India and Singapore. Bonus is that you can take the Silver Line to the Innovation District and then the Red LIne to Kendall

I'd be very surprised if there are not hundreds of new developments in Eastie and that;'s not counting the impact of a potential Amazonia

To paraphrase the sage -- "Go East young man/woman and find your fortune"

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A couple of restaurants

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A couple of restaurants ,boutique stores , cafe’s would be great for those parcels.

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No parking

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No parking spaces are proposed for the 26 units abutting Webster St. Non-starter.

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You didn't read the proposal, did you?

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The development has 90 spots for 100 units.

That seems about right - if you want to have a parking spot, you get one.

You seem to think that each unit needs a parking spot right in the condo- make that three! Too bad. People without cars don't want to pay for that, and people with cars will have parking (unlike you they can walk or roll if they live on that side). If people want driveways or to pave over everything in their yard except bathtub mary, they won't live here.

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Have you looked at a map

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It's not even 10 minutes' walk from the Blue Line. The fact that the entire development has a 10:9 unit to parking ratio is effing absurd already. Time for this city to grow the hell up.

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