City Councilor Lydia Edwards has called for the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to begin a community process to discuss the reuse of the Little Mystic parcel of land it owns and current leases to MassPort.
Known locally as Montego Bay, the Little Mystic is an old protected shipping port that abuts NewTown and the playing fields. The BPDA owns the land abutting the Little Mystic on the northern side, and its 40-year lease with MassPort expires in June 2019. Currently, MassPort uses it as overflow parking for the Boston (Subaru) AutoPort on the other side of Terminal Street.
Edwards said she has sent a letter to the BPDA to ask them to get the process started now before the lease runs out. The City-owned property, she said, should be returned to the community, if that’s what the community wants.
“The Charlestown community should have the opportunity to realize full use of its waterfront, and that waterfront should be accessible to all members of the community,” said Edwards. “Currently, property on the Little Mystic does not provide a substantial benefit to Charlestown residents or to the City tax base. As Charlestown’s district councilor, I am asking city and state officials to make this public property available to the neighborhood so that the community can determine its future use.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan disagreed with Edwards’s move on Little Mystic, saying while it might be a good idea at some point, now might not be the right time.
“Opening up a Designated Port Area is a major undertaking,” said Ryan. “Charlestown really has enough on its plate right now. We, as a community, will be much better off focusing our attention on the major projects at hand. Adding one more project, even one that could possibly have positive impact, will just get us even more unfocused. This includes our elected officials, and our City and state agencies. We need to all get on the same page before we go to the community and open new chapters. Or, we risk making false promises.”
The BPDA didn’t immediately comment directly on the matter, but did provide information about the parcels and their restrictions.
Recently, after some reporting from the Patriot-Bridge, it was discovered that the lease – which came at a cost of $1 for 40 years – was to expire in 2019. The land in recent times has been seen as underutilized and much more valuable than it was in the past.
Part of the reason to start the process so early is that it has to be removed from the Designated Port Area (DPA) of the Mystic River. Only the BPDA land is included in the DPA, with the rest of the Little Mystic frontage outside of that boundary. The process is a long and onerous one to remove property from the DPA, which prohibits uses that are not maritime/industrial – including housing, retail, hotels and parks. In the end, the decision rests with Coastal Zone Management at the state level – which could decline to remove the parcels.
The BPDA indicated that there are two parcels. The first is protected open space that contains the public boat ramp and parking lot – the only of its kind in Boston. The second parcel is leased for active maritime industrial, water-dependent use that would require significant state and local process for the Designated Port Area boundary to be altered. The BPDA said both parcels are also within the Little Mystic Waterfront Service Subdistrict of Boston Zoning Code and the FEMA Zone AE 100-year flood zone, both meaning that the parcels are at greater risk for flooding due to climate change and projected sea level rise.
Edwards said she has notified BPDA Director Brian Golden that she intends to seek a DPA boundary review for the parcels by the Office of Coastal Zone Management.
“Currently, the DPA status does not allow for open space uses and would preclude development of a waterfront park or other community amenities,” she said. “We would like the BPDA’s full support, but we can live with their neutrality…It could end up being a whole list of things, but it’s really up to the community to decide what they want there within a community-led process.”