DCR begins charging Community Boating rent

Starts at $5,000 a year, rises to $50,000 after 9 years

COMMUNITY BOATING INC., the nonprofit public sailing center located on the banks of the Charles River in Boston, is now paying rent to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The rental agreement represents the first time the sailing center has ever paid anything more than a token rent to the state agency that owns the land on which the center sits. Indeed, Community Boating operated for the last 10 years under a rent-free agreement that expired in 2010.

The rent under the new agreement starts out at $5,000 a year and then increases over the next nine years until it maxes out at $50,000.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump, who has been critical in past audits of DCR’s lackadaisical management of its leases and permits, issued a statement saying the Community Boating agreement is a “small step toward addressing a big problem. I encourage [DCR] to take steps to ensure all leases are current and, more importantly, put in place protections to ensure this problem doesn’t reemerge in the future.”

DCR, the largest landowner in the state, declined comment on the lease agreement, which was obtained under a public records request.

Charles Zechel, the executive director of Community Boating, said he didn’t know why it took so long to develop a rental agreement, but he raised concerns about imposing financial burdens on a nonprofit whose mission is to introduce sailing to people from all walks of life.

“Anything that makes accomplishing our important mission more difficult is an extra burden,” Zechel said.  “I think we shouldn’t have to pay anything, but that’s just me.”

Community Boating was launched in the late 1930s by Joseph Lee Jr. as a way to introduce the sport of sailing to poor residents of Boston. According to a history of Community Boating written in 2010 by Zechel and two co-authors that was published by the National Maritime Historical Society, Lee was alarmed that the Charles River basin (created with donations from his aunt, Helen Osbourne Storrow) had become a playground of the wealthy.

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Determined to open the basin to a larger audience, Lee pushed and prodded a reluctant Metropolitan District Commission, the predecessor of DCR, to allow Community Boating to use state property. He and his boats even squatted on state land initially. After years of political maneuvering, lawmakers in 1940 authorized the Metropolitan District Commission to extend a lease to Community Boating at a cost of $1 a year and build the group a boathouse using funds donated to the state by the wife of James Jackson Storrow.

Community Boating today serves thousands of adult and junior members who pay fees based on income level. According to Community Boating’s website, the organization typically provides free services to youth sailors that would be valued at $200,000 a year.