Zoning board mostly approves four-building residential and office complex at tip of isolated Dorchester neighborhood
The Zoning Board of Appeal today mostly approved a project that will replace some decaying boat-repair sheds at the end of Port Norfolk with 120 residential units, office space and a wide walkway along the Neponset River where it flows into Dorchester Bay.
The board voted 5-0 in favor of the broad scope of the plan by Ryan Sillery's CityPoint Capital and Rise Together, but said they needed more details on how the project would keep the proposed riverside parkland from becoming the exclusive preserve of the small, isolated neighborhood with just two access roads off Neponset Circle, rather than being a feature everybody from across the state could enjoy - even as the project keeps from overwhelming that neighborhood.
The board gave the developers two months to provide the extra details.
Board member Eric Robinson abstained from the discussion because his architectural firm designed the project, which would sit between the Venezia restaurant and banquet hall and the Boston Harbor Distillery.
The board's attorney, the developer's attorney and the Port Norfolk Civic Association all urged the board to defer any action at all to allow for more time for the development team to provide the additional details - and in the association's case, to continue negotiations on the proposal - but board Chairwoman Christine Araujo, who raised some of the more pointed questions on it, said the board could adjust its approval depending on the answers it gets.
"In concept we are in support, but there are details we are not in support of and that's what's tying us up in knots," she said.
CityPoint's current proposal - some four and a half years after it initially proposed a larger complex with a hotel - includes 120 apartments spread among four buildings next to a renovated marina. One of the buildings would also have office space, an 11,000-square-foot community room and 100 parking spaces in a garage. Another building would have retail space on the ground floor and 15 more parking spaces. A bit more than 2 acres would be set aside for public use, including a wide walkway along the water.
Board member Mark Erlich said he was concerned the plan would succeed too well - that the new area and park would become an attractive destination but that people from outside the area would have no place to park, in a part of the city that has no access to public transit. That, he worried, would effectively mean "privatization" of what is, in fact, a very public shoreline.
Erlich, who said he already likes Port Norfolk, said "this is going to be a very attractive part of the city - you really are creating something new and potentially exciting." But without enough parking, people from outside the area would be unable to get there to enjoy it, he said
RODE Architects's Kevin Deabler acknowledged a tension in designing the publicly accessible parts of the project because one goal of the overall proposal was to minimize the amount of traffic to and from the site through the quiet, isolated neighborhood, that the site "not become the destination that everybody in the city comes to." Still, he said there will be some on-street parking along the buildings for people who do want to visit. More, he said, might be available in the larger of the two garages, at least during the day when residents drive to their jobs elsewhere.
"I get that," Erlich said of neighborhood concerns. "I know Port Norfolk quite well. ... The truth is (the new project) is going be a very appealing part of the Boston waterfront."
"It's a pipe dream that it's not going to be appealing to a lot of people who don't live in Port Norfolk," he continued.
Araujo also expressed concern about public access to the shoreline - something state regulators will also insist on.
"The trouble I continue to have is that the tidelands are 'Commonwealth tidelands' and are held for everybody who lives in the Commonwealth - and that means not an area limited to use by people in Port Norfolk but land that "is supposed to be open to the public," she said. She noted the roughly 20 on-street parking spots provided in the proposal, but then wondered how long after the place is fully occupied before residents petition the city to make them "resident only."
Araujo added she is concerned that the site would become a sort of soulless, cultureless extension of the Seaport without some sort of "programming" to liven up the waterside. She gave as an example the sailing program at Piers Park in East Boston.
Deabler, however, rejected the idea the proposal would result in anything like the soulless Seaport. For starters, it's way smaller. "It's much more of a neighborhood scale and gives both residents and visitors more immediate access to the water.
John Lyons, president of the Port Norfolk Civic Association, urged the board to hold off on any vote. The plan is still too big for the neighborhood and CityPoint has yet to provide firm plans for actually rebuilding the marina, he said, adding just as important, the new project would mean yet another blow to what little is already left of a working waterfront in Boston.
He said CityPoint had failed to show any real hardship, required for variances. "There's no justification other than economic need," and at the detriment of the surrounding neighborhood, he said
He called on the board to either defer action on the proposal, to give residents and CityPoint one last shot at negotiating something everybody could agree on.
As Erlich and Araujo pressed their points about public access and transportation, CityPoint attorney Jared Eigerman also asked the board to defer any action to give the company enough time to provide additional details on ensuring public access to the waterfront - something without which state regulators, who must also sign off on the place, would require as well.
The board's own attorney also suggested a deferral.
But Araujo, saying the issue was not the overall plan but the details - and that the details could be modified at a future board meeting, in a process called "board final arbiter," called for a vote.
Through an aide, City Councilor Frank Baker (Dorchester), supported the proposal.
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Tenean Beach has a bunch of
Tenean Beach has a bunch of parking just 5 minutes away. I don't understand the fuss over parking when the shoreline path should just be treated as an extension of Pope John Paul and Tenean.
Lack of public transit
is a real problem here. The real answer is beyond the developer's control (though perhaps they can kick in money for it): add a Red Line stop at Neponset, along the Braintree branch. The new-ish Assembly stop on the Orange Line is a model to follow here.
In the meantime, perhaps people can park at Tenean Beach or Pope John Paul II Park and then walk or bike along the Neponset River path to reach this area?
For a long time, I have
For a long time, I have wondered why there isn't a Red Line stop at Neponset Circle, given the gap between Savin Hill and North Quincy. I haven't been through that area in a while, but it seems like a no-brainer, given how they inserted a station at Assembly.
Assembly / Tenean Station
Assembly was done because there was a massive, residential / hotel / retail / office complex planned right next to the tracks.
This is not going to happen in Tenean / Port Norfolk anytime soon. There are some newer apartments being built in the area, besides what is proposed now, but a lot of the land is spoken for and the jobs that are there now are light industrial (i.e. you need a pick up truck to go to your job) oriented. Think Freeman, SullyMac / F&B. There are also smaller two and three families being built on Norwood Street but those are replacing 100+ year old houses.
A station here would serve people, but a lot less than you think. This would be another Shawmut and the benefit might not be worth the infrastructure cost and you can get here on the bus. Also, a lot of this area is built on somewhat filled in right wetlands. The old Neponset rink used to have its center ice go down at low tide. Garvey Park is filled marsh which feeds the creek at Tenean Beach, which in turn drains everything coming down the south side of Pope's Hill. That is why the area behind the fire station was known as The Marsh.
Trust me, have been thinking about the merits of this station since about 1983 when if you got on a then Quincy train by accident, you had to back track all the way to Andrew from N Quincy to get on an Ashmont train.
Is there a deadline for
Is there a deadline for developers to finally get commercial tenants in long vacant street level space once they start filling up the residential units above it? So many vacant commercial space in JP from the development at Velo at Forest Hills all the way up Washington through to Columbus/Egelston. Seems like all we get recently are banks and coffee shops.
In this case, the space is already spoken for
One of the developers will be moving into it.
"Walkway along the Neponset"?
"Walkway along the Neponset"? How far? To where? Finnegan Park?
Segments at a time
Eventually there should be an off road path that goes from Mattapan Square to Castle Island (with the redo of Morrissey a big part of it). It looks like this section would be bypassed by bike commuters looking for a more direct route, but would offer a more along the water for people looking to meander a bit more.
Beyond Mattapan Square, to Hyde Park and Readville
It's all there -- turn on 'Biking' layer in Google Maps and you'll see it. The next part that needs building is to go north from Tenean Beach to Columbia Point.
It is not part of the office
It is not part of the office route, but since the river runs down Truman Parkway but you really can't see the river.
I know about the Neponset
I know about the Neponset Trail.
It's just that it's highly impractical to start at, say... the Venezia, run a walkway out into the Neponset River, go far enough out to go around the marina/club that's already there, not too far out to get in trouble blocking navigable channel, and tall enough (or drawbridge) to let boats pass under/through - to get to a park that's 750 feet down the street.
Now, if they're calling the inlet/ditch/whatever in front of the beach "Neponset River" - a walkway along and/or across THAT would make sense.
Did the artist create a
Did the artist create a rendering at low tide as well?
I love the people who advocate for a ferry from here.
They have zero idea on tides and assume like Buster Bluth that if it is blue on the map, it must mean water that you can put a boat on and go.
They were too busy
rending a tiny, tiny child with normal sized parents.
Working waterfront = marina?
Is Lyons hoping to bring in a commercial wharf or something? I don't think of a marina as being part of a working waterfront.
Given the existence of Tenan and Finegan park, I don't really see the need for more than a public walk/bike way in terms of access.
They stopped boat building here at the end of WW2. The ice cream factory shut down in the late 80's.
A marina produces a lot of revenue even with the ability to get out of the river for about 2 hours a day.
I guess I don't see a marina as being that much different than say a restaurant in terms of the kind of revenue and kinds of jobs being created. Sure, it's a waterfront industry but it's not commercial but recreational.
My old college roommate's parents bought one years ago.
Their business was Big Pharma but for some reason they grabbed a random Marina. I was young and dumb and not really paying attention so it made no sense to me. Now that entire area of the south shore has built up around it.
It was genius.
Parking is a Red Herring
The amount of coast here is quite minimal and also quite close to Joseph Finnegan Park. This would really just be an extension of the existing trails and close enough to not require immediately proximate parking. Realistically, not many people will go there, because it will be a short path to a dead end, unless they find a way to connect it to Tenean Beach. But that would require a bridge, so they won't be doing that.
The parking focus, if there should be one at all, ought to be on the evidently expanded marina.
Two zip lines, one in each direction.
Why not a foot bridge?
Sort of kills two birds with one stone since it allows visitors to use the parking at Tenean Beach and also keeps car traffic out of the Port Norfolk neighborhood.
The schizophrenic behavior of the ZBA is bizarre. The developer proposes attractive waterfront park areas and the ZBA's attitude is that these are so nice, you're going to need more parking. WTF? They want to encourage people to drive there through a residential neighborhood, thus enraging the neighbors who probably don't want more car traffic? If they don't add parkland which the neighbors can enjoy, then there aren't enough "community benefits."
The whole system is obviously broken by design so favors can be handed out to the politically well-connected under the guise of "variances."