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East Boston group sues state over its refusal to allow housing on waterfront land along Border Street

A non-profit group that wants to put affordable housing on 7 1/2 acres of East Boston waterfront it owns is suing the state agency that says the land can only be used for marine industries - or yacht storage - even though the land has no docks or access to the harbor's main shipping channel.

In a suit filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, the East Boston Community Development Corp. (EBCDC) says the state's Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) ignored the fact that getting the land shipshape for ships would require dredging "tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated sediments" and construction of piers and bulkheads, which could cost tens of millions of dollars - and would still require convincing the rest of the increasingly residential neighborhood to allow steady truck traffic to and from 1A.

CZM ruled on Dec. 22 that two parcels owned by the group - a large parcel right on the water at 80 Border St. and a smaller, landlocked parcel at 102 Border St. would continue to be part of a "designated port area" in which residential buildings are banned. The area includes 36 New St., which in fact does have a wharf and docks able to handle boats larger than a water taxi.

EBCDC had asked the state to remove its land's designation as a port area both because it can't currently be used for that, not without extensive and expensive work, and because it once marketed the larger of the two sites for that purpose and, after years and years, got no takers.

And besides, the lawsuit continues, the state's own regulations say land can only be considered port-worthy if it includes "a shoreline that has been substantially developed with piers, wharves, bulkheads, or other structures that establish a functional connection with a water area," rather than "shallow tidal flats that extend hundreds of feet into the harbor" with no piers, wharves or bulkheads and that the land needs to be in "close proximity" to railways or truck routes.

102 Border St. doesn't even border any land with active seaport potential - although the state says the land is part of the designated port area that includes 36 New St., the parcel between the two sites - 60 Border St. - is currently home to "an office building with very limited waterfront." And while a nearby supermarket gets deliveries by truck, that's hardly the same as a heavy-duty truck route, the group says.

In contrast, what East Boston desperately needs, the group says, is more housing. And that is something EBCDC says it could get built - since its founding in 1970, EBCDC has built or purchased more than 740 affordable residential units - most apartments - as well as provided space to local artists and small businesses, some serving the local maritime industry.

Also, the group says, the land sits in what the state would consider an "environmental justice" area, where future environmental problems would disproportionately hit poor and and minority residents. Arguing that residents of the surrounding area would show up en masse to oppose any heavy industrial use of the land, even were the group to propose it, the group says the only alternative allowed by the state - a boatyard to sheath yachts in plastic for winter storage - would be equally nonsensical:

It would seem contradictory to both [the state's] Environmental Justice Policy and the Commonwealth's widely publicized affordable housing goals, not to mention the purposed objective of preserving space for marine industrial uses, for CZM to thwart the production of affordable housing so that yachts might be seasonally stored in an Environmental Justice Block Group.

Through the lawsuit, EBCDC is asking for a ruling that CZM was "based upon an error of law" and was arbitrary and capricious and should be overturned to let the group begin to explore putting housing on the site.

Complete complaint - includes the CZM ruling (8.9M PDF).



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I was really annoyed at the state after reading this, but looking at Google Maps makes me scratch my head and maybe reconsider.

The aerial shows the remains of what was definitely water-interacting infrastructure (boat ramp?): https://goo.gl/maps/PNwJiv2FnY7uoGsV9

Streetview from years ago (2015) before they built the neighboring development shows a rickety pier that *someone* removed: https://goo.gl/maps/VSuc24ugfm4WiRne7

So this doesn't seem as clearcut as they want us to believe. Perhaps housing is a great use for this parcel in our current day and age, but to be upset that waterfront property with a history of marine uses was intended to remain for those uses isn't so farfetched.

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He of Flying Cloud fame?

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And hundreds of feet of mud flats? There are piers immediately to the north and south, some of which have boats parked at them.

Also, why did they buy the land if they knew housing wasn’t allowed? It’s unfortunate for them that they couldn’t find a marine tenant, but that’s a risk you have to weigh when buying a property.

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They also work to promote local small businesses - some of them involved in the marine trade. At least according to their lawsuit, they tried to find somebody willing to use the land for marine purposes and found no takers.

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According to its lawsuit: Working with the East Boston Museum and Historical Society on a museum dedicated to East Boston's immigrant and maritime history - with an emphasis on Donald McKay.

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From what I’m reading here is that the entire stretch along Border street on the harbor side is “doomed” from building any housing complexes,
Which includes future development of Liberty plaza , reserved for marine purposes only, lol , I thought the industrial /marine uses along that harbor was eliminated long ago. What’s the purpose of having clean harbors . The return of the industrial age along the Eastie side of Boston harbor.

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I would like to see the EBCDC build more affordable housing in East Boston - we need it. But I'm really skeptical that we should be building ANY residential housing in an area that may be uninhabitable before a 30 year mortgage is paid off.

A lot of Eastie is landfill. It was wetlands and mudflats connecting some islands. That was filled in and now the sea is coming back for what was hers. The brand new developments just around the corner from this site are already experiencing "sunny day" flooding during astronomical high tides. You can put as many parking garages on the first floor as you want, and all your electricals on the roof, eventually people will have to get out of a building that is surrounded by water. Poorly built, crappy buildings surrounded by water.

And who is going to bail out (literally and figuratively) the folks who are losing their most valuable asset to the sea? Tax payers, to one extent or another. Who is going to invest in the infrastructure to protect these new developments even for the short term (50 - 75 years)? The BPDA has told us that the fabled, cancer-curing, make the lame walk/blind see/ugly get a date, magical unicorn of PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS will do this. Well the cement wasn't yet cured on the projects next door at the old Hodge Boiler Works before the BPDA was talking about how they had to invest public monies in stopping up the flood pathways between the buildings. I thought the fucking developers were supposed to do that???? That's why we were allowing them to build there. #shitshow

Eliot, Olmstead, and all the engineers whose names were lost to history, those crusty old white guys designed infrastructure that we still use today. They designed for 100 years out or more. Nothing being done in Boston today is designed to last beyond the point of purchase, let alone when the sea level rises. Glad I bought at the top of the hill.

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I hope you have a dinghy to get across the harbor.

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According to recent local real estate transactions, The Ebcdc have bought over $30 million dollars worth of “ready move in triple deckers “ most equipped with up to code fire sprinklers in Eastie alone in the last 3 months off of one Brookline real estate investor who happened to accumulated a handful of properties and made huge profits off of the “Government Grants” Ebcdc…So there is plenty of affordable housing in the Eastie neighborhood. Don’t forget what’s coming in the next 10 years Suffolk downs more affordable housing.

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Maybe they can build complexes for short term housing - transitional, homeless step-up, those mothers they keep housing at hotels halfway across the state, etc. Get the decade of use you can out of it before the sea takes it.

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97 for Storm Risk (Extreme)
and a 94 for Flood Risk (Extreme).

Believe the planning powers that be are discouraging this sort of building on the waterfront and I definitely wouldnt site affordable housing there, having lived with mold and flooding due to regular old landlord neglect, no building can withstand that on a regular basis. Times they will be changing, fast.


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80 BORDER STREET site will be great for an outdoor concert venue, similar to leader bank pavilion on the seaport. Just think of the area businesses that would benefit from this, and the Job creation. Maverick station is literally a stone throw away. I’m

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To get rid of maritime industries and blue collar jobs. There is no other site where marine, maritime and fishing industries can be located except the waterfront. The bigots in the City and State governments did the exact same thing to the South Boston waterfront. Got rid of all the blue collar jobs and the low and middle income workers/residents and infuse the area with yuppies and Euro Trash.
East Boston is next.

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Does anyone else see the irony of a coastal flooding article followed directly by one where land owners are complaining about not being allowed to build on the waterfront. Was this intentional?

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Sure… we need housing.

And yes… CZM’s insistence on keeping our waterfront a barren, disused, abandoned blight source for another generation or two is pointless, since ours is a dead port (no matter how much money Massport pours into it)

And yup… coastal flooding is a factor

My take: we have about 75 years of viability left in Boston before high tide is washing down Meridian Street. By that point our entire utility infrastructure system we need to have been rethought and IDK how all that will go. But 75 years is long enough to continue to invest.

My question is about what we should build? Building six or seven story residential developments alone -no matter who they serve, with their vacant concrete harborwalks, leaves our waterfront nearly as barren as it is now. I -like 98% of my neighbors won’t qualify for low income and can’t afford the luxury condos. What I need is a vibrant city, with lots of diverse shops and opportunities… places I can meet my neighbors and get access to things I need… socialize… maybe open a business or where my kids could get jobs. Those are community uses.

So far the community has got Jack out of waterfront development.

If it’s a matter of money, just build it higher. The East went 16 stories, and the sky didn’t fall

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I agree with you, the neighborhood needs jobs, the marginal street waterfront area condo’s never did create jobs for local residents, sure there is a liquor store in one condo complex, but how many locals work there. Eastie residents have been duped from the beginning.
In the end, it’s all about making money, look at the Eddy building on New street , the owner just sold it for $135 M . Eastie is a real life monopoly board.

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If affordable housing is built here, in a few years when it's flooded weekly we'll be reading about how the low-income residents of the site are disproportionately impacted by rising sea levels and climate change, we only put affordable housing here because it's crappy land, and the city doesn't care what happens to non-wealthy people.

Maybe instead we can just skip the part where we place and then displace the future residents and just build the affordable housing somewhere else to begin with.

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