DEP decision over North End hotel probably not relevant to 150 Seaport Blvd

Jon Cronin, owner of the Whiskey Priest and Atlantic Beer Garden restaurants at 150 Seaport Boulevard, has submitted plans to build a 124-unit condominium building in that location. The tower would rise ~250-feet in height, over 22 storeys, similar to the height of other buildings in the neighborhood.

The City of Boston, through the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and the Department of Environmental Protection have approved the proposal and the developer is hoping to break ground this fall.

However, throwing a spanner in the works is the Commonwealth Law Foundation (CLF), which has concerns over public access to the Boston Harbor, among other issues (height; density; proximity to other buildings; open space). CLF sent a letter petitioning the Department of Environmental Protection to withdraw its approval.

Your decision conflicts without justification with the approach underlying the
Commonwealth’s 2000 approval of the underlying South Boston Waterfront Municipal Harbor
Plan; it fails to achieve a proper public purpose in which private benefits are incidental to the
proposal and public benefits exceed public detriments; and it sets a bad precedent for other
“developer-driven” municipal harbor plan amendments that your Office will have to review in the future including the Harbor Garage site.

As of now, the DEP has not responded to the petition. (I just sent an email to the Secretary of the DEP’s office and will update if I get a response.)

One of the big issues is apparently that there has always supposed to have been a publicly-accessible harbor walk (called, “The Harborwalk”) around the existing restaurants; the owners of the property (not Jon Cronin) agreed to this in 1997, according to the CLF. This path was never constructed.

The CLF is concerned that a publicly-accessible walk will be constructed around the base of the new building, and if it is, that it won’t be “accessible enough”.

I bring this all up because of a situation going on across the Boston Harbor, in the North End. There, a developer has been pushing to get a hotel / mixed-use development approved on land off Commercial Street. The trouble is, part of the project would be built on “new” land; basically, pilings that would be sunk into the water.

Just yesterday, the DEP issued its final decision stating that the hotel cannot be built. The reason is, the existing pilings on-site are not visible at high tide. That is, they are submerged. Therefore, the hotel developer would be “adding” land, which is a big no-no in the eyes of the state (the law).

This made me think that the two projects had similarities, and in some ways they do (extra-levels of approvals due to proximity to water / wetlands, etc.). The project at 150 Seaport Boulevard will also be built on “made land”.

The difference, as I see now, is that Whiskey Priest and Atlantic Beer Garden are built on pilings that are above sea level at high tide. So, the developer here is just replacing them, not “adding” them.

That might seem like splitting hairs to you but apparently a load of difference in the eyes of those who make the decisions.

My feeling is that the developers behind the Waterfront hotel will give up now, but what do I know? Meanwhile, my guess is that 150 Seaport Boulevard will move forward unless the CLF does something drastic.

Improving access to the Harbor is important and it seems as though the developer is doing the barest minimum as required by law (although the CLF doesn’t think it’s abiding by the law). It would be nice for the developer to go above and beyond, but it doesn’t seem as though that’s going to happen.