Two takes on Boston’s Municipal Harbor Plan

Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey and the City Council are united in wanting a redo of the city’s Municipal Harbor Plan, but getting all of the stakeholders on the same page won’t be easy.

Janey, in the heat of the preliminary election campaign for mayor, announced she was withdrawing the plan, which outlines planning principles for the city’s 42-acre waterfront and also grants exemptions from height restrictions to two properties – the Harbor Garage parcel owned by developer Don Chiofaro and the Hook Wharf parcel.

When the governor said the plan couldn’t be withdrawn, only amended, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution last week calling for just that. “In addition to not reflecting the new realities of climate change, the current Municipal Harbor Plan does not take into account the moment of renewed civil rights and racial equity,” the resolution said. “The Municipal Harbor Plan should reflect the city’s effort to make all aspects of the waterfront accessible to those disenfranchised and separated from the waterfront.”

On The Codcast, two advocates on opposite sides of the debate talked about their concerns, but it was also clear they have quite a bit in common.

Kathy Abbott, the president and CEO of Boston Harbor Now, said her organization did not support scrapping the plan. “That said, when Mayor Janey withdrew it, we were supportive and are supportive of the mayor and the City Council’s interest in amending it and improving it, because we have said consistently since the plan was signed off on that we think in fact the plan could be better,” she said.

Abbott also is not opposed to Chiofaro’s proposal for a 400-to-600-foot-tall building on the site of the Harbor Garage. “What we’ve said consistently is if you’re going to change those specs to the benefit of the development, then the public benefits that are being derived from those increases need to be commensurate,” she said. “We don’t think they are yet.”

Rick Dimino, the president and CEO of the business group A Better City, which counts Chiofaro as a member, was part of the task force that developed the municipal harbor plan, which was approved by the city in 2017 and the state in 2018. Dimino said the plan does what it is supposed to do, laying out the ground rules for waterfront development and granting exceptions to the two projects.

“At the end of the day, it is a good quality municipal harbor plan,” he said. “I hope it’s allowed to stand.”

He said stakeholders dissatisfied with the outcome are now using concerns about climate resiliency and equity to undermine it. He says those issues are better addressed by the city itself rather than by scrapping the plan. “The advocates in this case are barking up the wrong tree,” he said.

Both Abbott and Dimino say they support greater access to the waterfront.  “You need to have amenities that are available at every price point, from free to whatever, that the ground floors of buildings that are being developed along there need to be done in a way that are welcoming to everybody and not seem to be places that are not accessible to everyone,” Abbott said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Dimino said the waterfront needs to be common ground for all of Boston. He said an example of what he means is the fountain on the Greenway near the Harbor Garage that attracts children and families from all over the city.

 It took five years to pass the original municipal harbor plan, and Abbott and Dimino don’t think a new plan will be developed quickly. “I would imagine it will take some time,” Abbott said. “Like all plans, the process is as important as the product. … I don’t think it will be a really quick process.”