The BPDA last month cited rising sea levels as a reason for rejecting proposals by three developers to replace the rotting Pier 5 at the Charlestown Navy Yard with housing - even though two would consist mainly of floating housing pods.
In their explanation, BPDA planners say they're now fully on board with residents who want to see the pier turned into a park - as long as somebody other than the city pays for it.
The agency praised two of the developers for coming up with the idea of floating residential pods but said that, ultimately, they were too risky because Boston Harbor is part of the open ocean:
The floating housing concept introduced by two of the proposals is highly innovative, and could be useful in addressing the region's housing shortage, while also being highly adaptive to climate change and sea level rise. However, floating housing in this location would also be the first instance of floating housing on an open ocean harbor, which would make the safety of such a development a serious concern.
Also, the two proposals did not meet city requirements for open space along the harbor and would likely force an existing sailing program to shut down.
The third proposal was more traditional: Replacing the pier with a new one to support a more solid - and 100% affordable - residential building. But while the BPDA rejected the other proposals for being too floaty, it rejected this one because of financing challenges and also rising sea levels:
Financing the project would be extremely challenging given the large amount of public subsidy required from multiple sources, with high per-unit costs
due to the cost of demolishing and rebuilding the pier. Housing on a non-floating pier structure also presents long-term resilience challenges due to sea level rise.
The explanation continues that it will support residents who want to try to turn the pier into a park, but with a caveat:
The BPDA is highly supportive of public open space along the water's edge and ensuring access to the harbor. In fact, current State regulations for development on Pier 5 require a minimum of 51 percent public open space at the property and the inclusion of public facilities on the first floor of any built structures.
At this time neither the BPDA nor the City of Boston have plans to spend public funds to finance a park at Pier 5. However, the BPDA would enthusiastically support increased open space and/or park creation at Pier 5 through philanthropic or private financing. Should such a proposal emerge, the BPDA would be willing to accept an asking price of $0 for the property if this was economically necessary to support additional public open space or other exceptional public benefits on Pier 5.
The agency says it's not saying this just to be Grinchy, but because the Navy Yard area already has a fair amount of public open space and the city has to use its park resources in areas - including other parts of Charlestown - that don't have quite so much, but if any local philanthropies are willing to step up, the BPDA would consider simply handing the pier over to them for no money:
It is important to note that Navy Yard is already well served by public open space (e.g. Shipyard Park, Pier 4, Menino Park, and the Navy Yard National Historic Park) and there are areas in Charlestown, as well as other neighborhoods within the City of Boston, that are in greater need for public funding for park creation. Equitable public investment in open space must prioritize the needs of low income, diverse communities that currently lack adequate access to open space and face serious risks related to climate change. Given these social and environmental equity concerns, the BPDA believes that Pier 5 is an unlikely candidate for open space public funding.