The BPDA held a public meeting on March 21 to inform the public about the uses of the Little Mystic site that is owned by the BPDA and currently leased to MassPort, and to talk about mitigation efforts. The 40 year lease is up in July, and the BPDA is thinking about how to proceed forward—whether to renew the lease or go with someone else. A standing room only crowd gathered in the CharlesNewTown Community Room to gain clarity on this issue, after rumors have swirled about what might happen with the parcel.
The BPDA said their goals for the site are to have it “continue to play an important role in the international economic engine that is the port of Boston, “that leasing of Little Mystic is accomplished through a transparent process,” and “that the community has a say in ways that Little Mystic tenants can be good neighbors,” a PowerPoint presentation read.
City Councilor Lydia Edwards said that “the conversation and what you want to see for the land” was to begin that night, in order to “come up with the best use possible for all of us.”
A good portion of the presentation was dedicated to explaining to the community what that piece of land is currently used for, as well as the restrictions that are placed on its use through state law. Several people were confused about the point of the meeting, so Devin Quirk, Director of Real Estate for the BPDA, said that “we’re in a position to ask the tenant what else they can do for all these impacts the site produces as mitigation,” and that it’s an “opportunity to think about how we might want to improve the general community.”
Chris Breen, Special Project Manager for the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), gave a brief history of the site, saying that the approximately 150,044 square foot parcel of land entered into a lease with MassPort 40 years ago, and in turn relinquished their Navy Yard rights.
Joe Christo, Senior Resilience and Waterfront Planner for the BPDA, explained that the “state jurisdiction acts like zoning in regulating land use.” He said that the site is currently an active Designated Port Area (DPA), which “protect coastal geographic areas that provide primary characteristics that are essential for Water-Dependent Industrial uses,” according to the presentation. Christo said that DPAs restrict uses to ones that are water dependent industrial and supporting uses, such as marine terminals, manufacturing facilities dependent on water transportation, and facilities related to port operation and marine construction. He made it very clear that restricted uses for DPAs are: residential, entertainment facilities, hotels, and recreational open space, which are some of the ideas that have been floated around the community for what they would like to see there. Lydia Edwards said that she has looked at housing “and other uses” for the space as well.
Christo said that there is a process to appeal the restriction in use through a boundary review with the state, but he said “it’s tough to be de-designated” once a site is an active use, as this one is.
Jeff Myers of MassPort kicked off the conversation about the Autoport, the 80-acre maritime industrial terminal that was leased by MassPort in 2011. This includes the strip of land in question. Myers said that the Autoport has donated money to local organizations in Boston, pays over $1 million in taxes to the City of Boston, and houses several other businesses, which adds “vitality to the Charlestown neighborhood,” he said.
John O’Donnell of Diversified Automotive, operator of the Autoport, said that the company came to the Charlestown location almost 21 years ago as a major processor and distributer of Subaru vehicles to New York and Northern New Jersey. “Boston Autoport is an industrial job center,” O’Donnell said. He said they also have made over $21 million in capital investments in the City of Boston. The other businesses that “have their hand in waterborne business” and are located on the property include: Morton Salt, Herb Chambers, Bridgestone, Save that Stuff, and several others.
O’Donnell then went into what the Little Mystic parcel of land is currently used for. He said that there used to be a fleet of duck boats there, but that operation was closed down two years ago. Currently, the parcel of land is used for exporting vehicles to West Africa. Vehicles are brought over and parked there while they wait for the vessel to come pick them up, but they are not brought over there until very close to the arrival of the vessel. O’Donnell said that this year’s goal is to deliver 80,000 vehicles to New York state and northern New Jersey.
“I employ over 450 employees,” O’Donnell said, which includes the truck driver fleet. He said there are over 200 full time employees at the Autoport, but it is “hard to get employees” due to the high cost of living in Boston. “We provide very good jobs, and our true desire is to remain in Boston,” O’Donnell said. “This piece of land is important to what we do,” it’s an “economic engine that contributes to Charlestown.”
The Mystic River Watershed Association has done some outreach within the Charlestown community to get feedback about what types of mitigation they would like to see in the area., Amber Christoffersen represented the organization at the meeting, saying that their initiative began last summer with an event at Schrafft’s, and continuing with events, meetings, and online surveys to understand what the community likes about the area and what they think can be improved to make the waterfront more accessible, she said.
Christoffersen said that people find that the Harborwalk is disconnected and there are not a lot of trees in the area. She said that they want to respect the DPA while also connecting the waterfront to provide a better experience to residents. “This site is a piece of the larger waterfront improvement effort,” she said.
Quirk said that the DPA is “critically important to Boston and Charlestown’s economy,” and the port uses are “likely to continue,” as the BPDA alone has no authority to change it to something else. “We think the existing tenant is a good tenant and are considering extending this lease,” he said, adding that the BPDA would like to hear from the public about what they would like to see as mitigation for this current issue, or if there are any other potential waterfront tenants that the community thinks would be a beneficial addition to the area.
Charlestown resident Diane Valle said she would like to see this parcel of land be used for housing, and proposed to O’Donnell that some of his employees may be able to live there. She called the piece of land “an eyesore,” and said that she would hope they would reconsider their position on the use of the land.
A Charlestown resident said that O’Donnell has been “good” to the people of Charlestown and hired Charlestown residents, so he supports the renewal of the lease.
Another resident said that he doesn’t think housing is a good idea for that area, as it is “not a healthy environment” with all the ship exhaust. Instead, he thinks the current rail area should be paved and have bus service to the area. “There’s a fantastic opportunity there,” he said. There were several other comments supporting the current use of the land as well.
The BPDA is looking for comments and concerns from the community. They can be submitted on the BPDA website, and the comment period ends on April 5.