One portion of the City-owned Little Mystic Channel – lovingly referred to by many in the Town as Little Montego Bay – will have its 40-year lease expire in 2019, and more than a few residents and leaders are calling for a review of the use of that valuable, but currently underutilized, waterfront property.
The pond-like Little Mystic is a vestige of another time when shipping ventures used to dock in Charlestown and unload their wares to storehouses along the industrial Mystic River. Those days are gone, but the industrial nature persists, including on the northern side of the Little Mystic, which is owned by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and leased to MassPort.
The other side of the Little Mystic is owned by Charles NewTown Housing and the Parks Department ball fields (also known as ‘The Oilies’). That side, therefore, has a dramatically different feel and use than the northern side. On the northern side, MassPort previously leased part of the space to Super Duck, which is now believed to be bankrupt and out of business. The other space is used as overflow car parking for the AutoPort. There is also a public boat launch on the site as well.
According to the lease agreement, which was procured by the Patriot Bridge, the BPDA and MassPort signed a 40-year lease in 1979. MassPort paid $1 to rent the land for 40 years, with many pages of covenants also included regarding insurance and indemnity clauses.
That long-term lease has stood in the way of anyone else accessing the land for a generation, but the lease runs out on July 1, 2019.
The BPDA said it had not had any discussions about renewing the lease with MassPort and had no information at the moment about what would happen in 2019 after it expires.
MassPort did not return an e-mail seeking comment on whether they would request an extension of the 40-year lease.
The property in question is within the stringent Designated Port Area (DPA), which limits use to industrial waterfront activities. There is a very involved process with the state’s Coastal Zone Management (CZM) division to petition to bring a property out of the DPA, but it is a long and involved process. However, the other side of the Little Mystic by NewTown is not in the DPA, so a good case could certainly be made for removing the northern side as well.
With more than a year before the expiration, there are some that believe it’s time to have a conversation about the land. Already, within the One Charlestown planning process, the Community Consensus Plan championed by Diane Valle and Sy Mintz has identified the northern side of Little Mystic as a logical place for additional housing as part of the overall replacement plan.
There has been rumors that, privately, Corcoran and the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) have also made overtures about the Little Mystic, but that couldn’t be confirmed.
State Rep. Dan Ryan said it is time for the community to talk about a larger land-use document for the entire Town, including the Little Mystic property.
“Reuse of property along the waterfront is not as easy as just drawing up plans, especially in a designated port area,” he said. “You can design the most beautiful property in the world, but the reality is you are still on a truck route, in an area designed to create jobs. There is a cumbersome process to change this use. I’m willing to engage in that process but it cannot be on a whim.
“I think the best use of our time and resources is to create a land-use document for our entire square mile,” he continued. “We have a window of opportunity to look at the community comprehensively rather than one plot, one development at a time. The Walsh Administration and the BPDA have created some great documents upon which we can further the discussion.”
City Councilor Lydia Edwards said this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and she would like to use the next year to let the community decide what it wants to do with the City-owned land on the Little Mystic.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the community to work with the City to decide the fate of what is going to happen there,” she said. “If Charlestown wants to continue what is there, that’s fine. If they would like to see housing, an active waterfront or something else, then we should consider that too. The City should see it for the opportunity it really is…I personally would love to see the process happen in a very transparent way, so that everyone knows this lease is expiring. Then I would love to see it carried out in a way where Charlestown gets to decide what it wants there. We have the time to make that happen.”
She said she would also, especially, like to hear input from residents of NewTown about what they would like to see there.