Built in 1979, the Dock Square Garage is not a building anyone would consider historic nor architecturally distinctive, however it is located near some of the most significant historic resources in the city: Quincy Market, the Blackstone Block, the North End and within the viewshed of the Custom House Tower. Fortis Property Group of New York has proposed the construction of a substantial addition atop the garage and recladding of the brick façade on the existing garage. The Alliance feels it is out of scale and context for this extremely historically significant neighborhood. The Boston Civic Design Commission and many members of the community agree.
The Alliance has expressed our concern, not with redevelopment and the opportunities of re-envisioning of this garage (a rather non-descript, innocuous non-entity within the neighborhood), but with the scale and insensitivity to the historic area where it is centered. We also are troubled with a growing trend of “glass hats” being placed on top of existing buildings. We have been vocal in our opposition throughout the design review process. Though the design has improved, it remains an inappropriate addition to this historic context.
Highlights from our activity log:
• June 17, 2019
The Zoning Board of Appeal unanimously approves the variances requested by the proponent, clearing the way for construction starting in 2020.
• June 13, 2019
Alliance staff attends the BPDA board hearing where the project is presented for a vote. Members of the public testify- some abutting residents and merchants speak in favor of the project while representatives of the Alliance, the Freedom Trail Foundation, and North End resident groups speak in opposition. Alliance Executive Director, Greg Galer, is the first to point out the almost unprecedented situation (a few times in decades) of a project coming to the BPDA that is not supported by BCDC (noting surprise that this was not reported to the BPDA Board). He notes while improved, the project is still too overwhelming for the city’s most historic area. Galer also notes that mitigation money has been earmarked for the Greenway, though the Greenway Conservancy supports the project, and none has been designated for historic preservation — reminding the Board that the definition of “mitigation” suggests those harmed (historic resources) should receive mitigation not those who support the project (noting its benefit) as has the Greenway. The Alliance has requested a monetary contribution to an existing fund for citywide historic preservation efforts (Legacy Fund for Boston). After public comment, board member Ted Landsmark expresses strong opposition with numerous questions and strong statements against the project, saying he is “dumbfounded” that an undistinguished design, not supported by BCDC, would even come before this board for a vote. He emphasizes the important role of BCDC. BPDA staff provide information about the process and try to explain the evolution of BCDC’s inability to support the project. A vote is taken and with Landmark being the only nay vote, the project is approved.
• June 4, 2019
Alliance staff attends BCDC meeting. The proponent presents the project once more with the latest updates to the design, including changing the facade color to be more red than orange to better dialogue with the surrounding architecture. Commissioners expressed appreciation for the team’s efforts to refine the design and respond to concerns with creative solutions. While some commissioners feel the current proposal is acceptable and will be an asset to the area, others still feel it is too tall and dominate in this historic setting, especially after seeing the scale model in place within the full city model. Alliance staff notes that this proposal, though improved, remains inappropriate and urges the commission to reject it rather than approving a project that is merely “good enough.” With only six members attending, BCDC is unable to reach either six votes required to reject (there are four) or four votes required to approve (there are two). In an unprecedented move the group votes to inform the BPDA that they are split and unable to reach a vote.
• May 28, 2019
Alliance attends a meeting of the BCDC design review subcommittee. The latest iteration of the project is presented and discussed, including a scale model placed in the model room at City Hall. The facade is now proposed to be clad with copper and glass, with perforated metal over the existing garage. Though improved, the proposal is still dominating. Alliance staff comments that the addition still feels too big and overpowering in this historic context.
• May 7, 2019
Alliance attends a meeting of the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC). The project returns to the full commission, despite a previous vote to disapprove, for review of additional modifications. The reconfigured proposal now calls for the demolition of the top two levels of the garage and a total height with the new addition of about 125’. A terrace level is now proposed for the elevation facing Quincy Market at a height of 55’. Masonry and warmer materials have been added to be more sympathetic with surrounding buildings. The new design is now largely not visible from Quincy Market. Commissioners express appreciation for efforts to address their concerns with the modifications. Some still express hesitation and ask for more views of the building in context; the decision is made to send the project back to the design review committee with the goal of preparing the project for a vote at the June BPDA meeting. The design review committee will focus on the facade and hopefully on design elements described as “unresolved” by some commissioners. The Alliance is pleased that the project has greatly improved but feels this new iteration of the project would benefit from more than one design review meeting to address remaining concerns.
• April 16, 2019
The Dock Square project is again presented to the design review committee of the Boston Civic Design Commission, with a minor reduction in height. The tallest portion of the glass addition to the garage, which faces the historic Quincy Market, is now 135’, down from 139’. The committee discusses the process, their voting options, and the previous vote to disapprove the proposal, with some confusion about the procedure by which this project was returning for design review. Because the project has already been voted on by the full board, and the board did not vote to reconsider the project, this discussion is characterized as not a formal meeting, even though at least one commissioner notes that it certainly feels like a design review meeting. After review and discussion of the additional modifications, commissioners present generally indicate that the revised design does not alter their overall opinion of the project, suggesting the height number is not the issue, and a total new approach may be in order for this most sensitive historic area. When public comment is requested Alliance Executive Director Greg Galer reiterates that the Alliance cannot support this project that remains incongruous with the surrounding historic character. Commissioners suggest the full board discuss the process and agree to view the scale model in place in the model room at City Hall.
• April 2, 2019
The Dock Square project is pulled from the Boston Civic Design Commission meeting agenda. The project will not be presented at the April 2 meeting.
The Alliance pushes a call for letters and in less than a week is copied on over 30 letters of opposition that were sent to the BPDA, BCDC, and others.
• March 27, 2019
AllianceALERT: In advance of the BCDC hearing on Tuesday, April 2, the public is encouraged to submit comments regarding the Dock Square Garage proposal to the project manager at the BPDA. The Alliance urges anyone who aligns with our opposition to send comments before noon on April 2. Comments should express personal opinions in your own words since form letters have less impact, but key points to consider are:
The Dock Square Garage is located near some of the most significant historic and cultural resources in Boston including Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, the Blackstone Block, and the Holocaust Memorial. Development on this site impacts this historic context as well as views to and from the historic North End neighborhood, the Custom House Tower, and countless historic places and viewsheds that define Boston. The proposal, even as revised, negatively impacts these areas that contribute to the history, context, and sense of place in this area of the city.
Though housing units and public realm improvements are welcome on this site, the proposal adds overwhelming height to an existing above ground parking garage. The optimal solution for this site would be to demolish the garage, put any necessary parking below grade, and design a new building that is appropriate for this site in height, massing, and materials. If this kind of solution isn’t feasible now, we should not be forced to accept a substandard plan for short-term gain.
Other options to meet the current demand for parking should be explored so that the best development possible can be achieved at this important site. The desire for on-site parking for nearby employees should not dictate high-impact, long-term design decisions.
BCDC should again vote to disapprove this proposal. The BPDA should NOT approve a project that is not able to gain the support of the Boston Civic Design Commission.
Comments should be addressed and emailed to: Michael Sinatra, BPDA Project Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please send a copy of your comments to: Elizabeth Stifel at BCDC (email@example.com), Brian Golden at BPDA (firstname.lastname@example.org), Alison Frazee at the Alliance (email@example.com) and Mayor Walsh (firstname.lastname@example.org).
• March 26, 2019
Alliance staff attends BCDC design review meeting where the project is presented with revisions including a reduction in height. Portions of the residential addition above the garage are now proposed to be within the Greenway Guidelines of 125’ and other portions are approximately one story above that height limit. The proponent suggests that the new addition could be flattened to meet the guidelines but would be less interesting architecturally. There is a discussion about the need for parking currently and in the future. Commissioners express concerns that introducing overwhelming height to this historic neighborhood on the basis of current demand for parking is short-sighted, especially since 200 of the spots in the garage are utilized by employees and not visitors and customers. Alliance staff comments noting that height guidelines are often violated for more height and perhaps, in this case, the guideline should be considered too high. As we often hear, “they are just guidelines after all,” perhaps we are learning that the current guideline is an error and the impact of building to it wasn’t fully clear until an example like this was presented. Commissioners present still feel the proposal is too high for this location. At the request of the proponent, the project will return to the full Commission for a vote on Tuesday, April 2.
• March 14, 2019
The BPDA board approves a request to schedule a public hearing on April 11, 2019 at 5:30 (date subject to change) to consider the development plan for Dock Square. The next steps for this project are currently unclear.
• March 5, 2019
Alliance staff attends the Boston Civic Design Commission hearing. Having discussed the proposal at several design review meetings, the subcommittee brings the project to the full commission for a vote to approve or disapprove the project. Commissioners applaud the public realm improvements of the proposal and express appreciation for the revisions that were made to address concerns. Commissioners are in agreement that the proposal remains inappropriate based on the height and scale of the addition, which they feel overwhelm the historic context and divide what is considered an informal historic district (Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, the Blackstone Block, and the Holocaust Memorial). The proponent is encouraged not to think of the Faneuil Hall area as a shopping center but as an internationally significant historic site. There is also concern about building on top of an above-ground parking garage which they feel is shortsighted given the City’s goals to reduce the need for parking and the Commission’s own charge to improve the public realm. Commissioners reiterate statements made at design review meetings about the desire to adhere to the 125’ height limit, or lower, of the recently adopted Greenway Guidelines. The Alliance letter and concerns are referenced, and our ED speaks in opposition to the proposal. A motion is made to disapprove the project. In order for the motion to pass, all six of the Commissioners present need to vote to disapprove. The vote is unanimous, and the project is disapproved by BCDC, which is a rare occurrence. It remains unclear whether the proponent will return to BCDC with a new proposal or if this proposal will be brought to the BPDA Board for a vote despite BCDC’s disapproval.
• February 22, 2019
Alliance submits comment letter opposing the project. The letter can be found below.
• December 19, 2018
Alliance staff attends a design review meeting at the Boston Civic Design Commission. Several staff members from the BPDA are present and start the meeting by explaining that this project has been reviewed in several internal meetings as well as with the Impact Advisory Group and that BPDA staff feels comfortable moving forward with the project being presented. The proponent then shows updates to the proposal which include a larger public open space, a more sculpted design for the new addition, and metal screens over the garage. BCDC members ask several questions about the project and then express concerns that because this area is so historically significant, a development of this scale is not appropriate. Some feel that this project would disconnect the historic Quincy Market area from the 17th century Blackstone Block and negatively impact the historic context. It is suggested that the design review committee move the project along to the full Commission for a vote, even if that vote is no. As an advisory committee, BCDC cannot prevent the BPDA from moving forward with a project. Their role is to provide guidance and make recommendations.
• October 23, 2018
Alliance staff attends a design review meeting at the Boston Civic Design Commission. Updates to the proposal are presented including retail on the ground floor along the Greenway, a slight reduction in the height of the addition, and the introduction of glass all the way to the base of the garage. The proponent notes a new strategy to drive piles through the garage to support the addition so that the garage itself can be altered in the future if parking demands decrease. There are two suggestions for how to treat the garage exterior- leave it brick or cover it with a metal screen. Commissioners express the same concerns as they did at the previous meeting: the proposal is inconsistent with the Greenway Guidelines and too jarring for this incredibly historic context. The proponent agrees to consider a narrow tower on the garage and to bring new concepts to the next meeting. Those attending from the public express concerns about scale and views to the Custom House Tower. Alliance staff is concerned about a metal screen wrapping the garage and the visual impact within this historic setting.
• September 4, 2018
Alliance staff attends a design review meeting at the Boston Civic Design Commission. Updates to the proposal are presented. The Commission expresses deep concerns with the scale, height, and presence of the garage addition in this historically significant context. There is a discussion about the anticipated demand for parking in decades to come and whether some parking spaces should be sacrificed for other uses. The Alliance expresses serious concerns about the proposal, sharing those of the Commission and also noting that by placing this large residential project on top of the garage we lock the garage in place indefinitely, virtually eliminating the possibility of the garage’s replacement one day when parking demands may be less. A Commissioner describes the project as “trying to put 10 pounds of potatoes into a 5 pound sack.” The Commission asks the project team to rethink the scope of the project and return with a proposal that lowers the height of the addition, asking for a design within the existing guidelines.
• April 2018
Alliance files comment letter with the Boston Planning and Development Agency. Earlier in the month the Alliance attended the Boston Civic Design Commission and one BCDC subcommittee meeting where there was strong Commission opposition to the proposal’s height, scale, and massing, particularly in this historic area. We were also represented at a public meeting where there were numerous voices opposed as well as questions about how this proposal will interact and engage with a new hotel recently approved for an adjacent parcel in Haymarket. The existing garage is 70’ tall and the proposal is for 193’ to the top of the last occupied floor, 213’ to top of penthouse.