Community Benefits: Lucrative Mitigation Package on Little Mystic Lease Includes Waterfront Rail Trail

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) is expected to approve a new lease for the Little Mystic parcels with MassPort at its meeting on Thursday night, but for this new term, there is far more mitigation in the kitty for the community – mitigation that include working to build a pedestrian/bike rail trail along the Mystic River.

“The AutoPort facility operates adjacent to the densely populated Charlestown neighborhood,” read a BPDA statement. “Accordingly, a critical consideration within BPDA’s decision to enter into a new lease with MassPort of the Little Mystic Parcel was MassPort’s and the AutoPort’s willingness to commit to a meaningful package of investments and actions to benefit those living in close proximity to the AutoPort and other industrial activities in the Charlestown DPA.”

After lengthy negotiations with Massport, also informed by community dialogue, the BPDA staff this week proposed a comprehensive set of community benefits. These benefits extend beyond the Little Mystic Parcel itself and define a package of investments and actions that address concerns associated with the maritime industrial operations within the overall Charlestown/Mystic River DPA. 

Of the numerous community mitigation pieces in the proposed new lease, one of the more exciting pieces is to build a rail trail amenity for the community along the former Mystic Rail line and under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge to connect to the Navy Yard HarborWalk. According to the proposed lease, MassPort will work close with the BPDA, Pan Am Railways (who owns the Mystic Branch tracks abutting Medford Street), the Flatley Company and other abutters “to provide a continuous, separated bicycle and pedestrian community path following the route of MassPort’s Mystic Branch rail corridor from Main Street near Sullivan Square to the vicinity of 275 Medford Street in Charlestown.”

The route would be a sufficient distance from the railway itself to preserve rail access to the Port and to ensure the safety of the path users.

“This pedestrian/bicycle path serves the same environmental justice goals described above, by improving local and regional access to the public open spaces on the north side of Charlestown, including Ryan Playground, the Charlestown High School sports facilities, Barry Playground and the Charlestown Navy Yard HarborWalk,” read a statement from the BPDA on the amenity.

The previous lease had been in place for 40 years with MassPort, and subleased to the AutoPort, for virtually nothing and really no mitigation measures for the community either. When the lease was discovered two years ago by the Patriot Bridge to be expiring soon, it sparked interest in the community to get control of the parcels, or at the least, get something of benefit in the new lease.

At Thursday night’s meeting in City Hall, the BPDA Board is expected to approve the new lease with MassPort, but it will contain measures for the community this time.

State Rep. Dan Ryan said it may not have resulted in control of the land for recreational purposes, but the new lease does have much more in it than before.

“Both the BPDA and Massport were open to suggestions from elected officials and the community at large early in the process,” he said. “I have faith that we will find a finished product that contains some of those recommendations. This new lease of the industrial port we certainly have many more community amenities and buffer areas than the past 40 years.”

Councilor Lydia Edwards has also been very involved in negotiating in the process of the lease renewal. At first, she had hoped to be able to get control of the land, but after some time, believed that the best course was to get lucrative mitigation within the new lease.

“It’s wonderful that benefits tied to the renewal of the Little Mystic lease will connect residents to the HarborWalk and along the existing rail corridor,” said Councilor Edwards. “These investments are critical for a healthy neighborhood with improved access to the open space and the waterfront.”

She said she hopes that the tenant, AutoPort, continues to abide by the lease agreement in maintaining the commitments to the community.

“It’s critical that MassPort’s long-term tenants show an ongoing commitment to the neighborhood, and any scholarship or community clean-up initiatives should continue throughout the term of the AutoPort’s operation in Charlestown,” she said.

Other commitments include:

•Massport will agree to be required to install a planted landscape screening as a visual buffer along the waterfront side of the Parcel to screen views of industrial activities on the site from residents across the Little Mystic Channel. This buffer will be planted in such a way as to not preclude the potential future installation of a HarborWalk extension on the Parcel.   

•Massport will perform a one-time community clean up in spring 2020 to be responsive to the desires of the CharlesNewtown Cooperative residents. 

•Massport will create a three-year $5,000 annual scholarship for qualified CharlesNewtown Cooperative or Boston Housing Authority (BHA) Charlestown residents for vocational/technical education.

•Massport will provide a report to the BPDA on salt control measures that can be shared with the surrounding community to be responsive to concerns about the management of the salt pile at the AutoPort.

•At Barry Playground, Massport will coordinate with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to install a new pedestrian and bicycle connection underneath the Mystic/Tobin Bridge. This connection will provide direct access from the existing HarborWalk along the southern side of the Little Mystic Channel to the existing HarborWalk within the Charlestown Navy Yard and beyond. 

“Providing this missing link in the HarborWalk is an important environmental justice investment, as it will improve access to open space for local residents, including lower income residents of the BHA and other income restricted housing developments in this area of Charlestown,” said the BPDA. “The connection will also improve regional networks of open space for people across greater Boston.”

Beyond the mitigation measures, MassPort will be paying substantially more in rent to the City than the $1 per year it was paying previously – property it was turning around and subleasing for lucrative rent payments.

The new terms include a $160,000 per year rent, and that will escalate every five years by 10 percent. The lease will run for a term of six years starting on Jan. 1, 2020. However, there will be five option periods of five years each. Those options will eventually terminate on June 30, 2051. That expiration date would be in unison with the AutoPort’s sublease terms with MassPort.

No one anticipated any objections to the new lease agreement.

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