It’s rare to find any project that generates near unanimity among civic leaders. But that’s the dynamic right now in the Port Norfolk section of Dorchester, where neighbors have spoken up forcefully against a redevelopment proposal that would create a new complex of condos, hotel rooms, boat slips and other amenities on the waterfront.
We hope that the development team and city officials, particularly at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, will heed the legitimate concerns of the community in this instance and revise and scale back the current plans.
There are merits to the proposal, dubbed Neponset Wharf by the proponents at City Point Capital, which has engaged a well-respected architectural firm, RODE, to design the space, which is next to the existing Venezia restaurant. The project would rise from what is now a non-descript collection of warehouses and marine equipment. In our view, the design looks great. And we love the idea of reenergizing the four acres of watersheet with a boathouse, open space and commercial space. Our neighborhood is thirsty for more public amenities along our waterfront and with enhanced connections to the south along the Neponset Greenway, there’s great potential here for people to safely walk and bicycle into the Port now.
Reasonable people understand that this prime waterfront can and should be redeveloped. It is not a private enclave. It’s a part of Dorchester and Boston that can be enhanced with sensible growth that will include new housing.
But opponents — including residents near the site and environmental organizations that are familiar with the peninsula and the contiguous waterfront area, have raised legitimate concerns – and not just about more traffic. They range from insufficient access for emergency vehicles and existing flooding and sewage issues to the potential impacts to wildlife.
Our sense is that a revised proposal – with better input from neighborhood leaders – could produce an improved proposal, one that would include a still-sizable footprint for new residents and amenities that would enhance the public’s use of the Dorchester waterfront.
The BPDA — under the direction, ultimately, of Mayor Walsh— is the key player at this juncture. They can and should insist that the development team reconsider the scope of this proposal. To ignore the overwhelming objections of existing neighbors would be folly and unfair. In our view, neighbors in the Port are willing to accommodate a reasonable compromise with the development team— but need the backing of City Hall to help them leverage such a negotiation.
The next round of planning needs to include key stakeholders from the outset, including the Port Norfolk Civic Association, which is composed of longtime and new residents who have a clear understanding of the real world limitations of the peninsula. They’ve lived through a bridge replacement project in the 1990s, for example, that required a Boston Fire truck and ambulance to be pre-positioned in the Port because access to the neighborhood is so severely limited.
There will be those who regard opposition to this project as a case of NIMBYism pure and simple. That’s not a fair assessment. There’s a good project here somewhere. Our officials in Boston City Hall can help make that happen by insisting that the development team come to the table to make those adjustments over the coming months.