Building Smart(er) in Boston | Conservation Law Foundation

Building Smart(er) in Boston

Seth Kaplan

In 1998 and 1999 CLF played a key role in a coalition that stopped a proposed development that would have placed a large tower on top of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  That proposal was not coordinated at all with larger plans for building on “air rights” over the MassPike (as it is known) and threatened to inflict major cost on the state transportation agencies due to the cost of building a deck over the highway large and strong enough to support a tower – and concerns about the stress this major new development would place on the transit facilities (the buses and subway) serving the area.

The project inspired significant opposition from residents of the Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods for a wide variety of reasons.

One result of the controversy around that, and other air rights project and development in those neighborhoods was a massive stakeholder process to develop a “Civic Vision” for development over the MassPike that literally bridged a chasm between neighborhoods in a way that strengthened and improved existing neighborhoods.

CLF was deeply engaged in that stakeholder process, and the closely related environmental review that created that “Civic Vision” and now, years later, that effort seems to be bearing fruit.  A proposal for that same area has been preliminarily accepted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as detailed in this short Boston.com blog post and a presentation by the developers.  The proposal would place the actual tower on solid ground away from the Turnpike and put a low-rise commercial building over the MassPike itself.  Still to be dealt with is the crucial question of how the development will enhance the subway and bus infrastructure on and serving the site.  Nearby, the “Fenway Center” air rights proposal that will be built adjacent to Fenway Park is addressing this issue by rebuilding the Yawkey Station commuter rail facility.  Will the Boylston Street entrance to the Hynes station (which is only open for special events as shown in this video) be renovated and opened?  Will the development help pay for signal improvements that improve the Green Line that serves that station? The fact that the designated developers have a good track record of working with the local community suggests that dialogue around such ideas is very possible.  And the fact that the project earns a cautious positive comment from Marty Walz, who led the citizen opposition to the prior project, in the Boston Globe is encouraging.

Building a thriving future with sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions and strong communities will require investments in real urban development, like the project that has been proposed for this critical Boston crossroads – and we owe it to our future and all the people (even the occasional Yankee fan who finds themselves in enemy territory) who visit, live in and work in Boston to get this one right.

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