When the City took up the task last February of changing the Designated Port Area (DPA) on the Chelsea Creek so that some development could take place next to the Chelsea Street Bridge, all signs seemed to point to the fact that it was a no-brainer.
A plan to locate a parking garage for rental cars on the waterfront property next to the Bridge on Marginal Street was preliminarily planned to be moved to the other side of the street – with the City swapping land with the waterfront owner. That was going to unlock the Creek waterfront for another new hotel and park/recreation development after a lifetime of only industrial uses allowed on the Creek due to the DPA designation.
Many thought the state review, conducted by the Coastal Zone Management (CZM), would more than likely turn Chelsea’s way.
That was presumptive, it appears.
CZM issued a draft review of the Chelsea Creek waterfront in December, and removed several areas of the Creek from the DPA, but not the pieces the City had requested next to the Bridge – known as the Marginal Street and Eastern Avenue South parcels.
“CZM analysis indicates that the land in the Marginal Street and Eastern Avenue South planning units are in substantial conformance with all the physical suitability criteria in [state regulations],” read the report. “Therefore these planning units will remain in the DPA.”
Now, the hotel development is likely off, and City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they were rather disappointed with the news.
“We’re not happy with it at all,” he said. “I have sent a comment letter opposing the draft report, but no one expects the final report to differ from the draft. Our real hope with this whole process was that 270 Marginal St. would come out because we have a hotel developer wanting to develop a hotel there on the parcel right next to the Bridge. It’s the same hotel developer that has developed several other hotels here in Chelsea. We needed that because you can’t put a hotel in…a DPA. Unfortunately, that whole parcel is within the boundary and no hotel can go there unless it is out of the DPA.”
The City had also intended to build a small park there to promote public access to the waterfront.
To add salt to the wounds, the CZM actually enlarged its scope when conducting the review and looked at the entire DPA in Chelsea, from the PORT Park to the Forbes Site in Mill Hill.
In that larger review, they decided that the properties in Mill Hill should come out of the DPA – known as Railroad North (Forbes) and Railroad South (adjacent to the Burke Complex).
“CZM analysis of the land in the Railroad South planning unit indicates that while this area is in substantial conformance with the physical suitability criteria for possessing a topography that is conducive to industrial use…the land area does not possess a substantially developed shoreline which creates a functional connection to DPA waters,” read the report. “The shoreline in the Railroad South planning unit is comprised of a mix of tidal flats and salt marsh and is wholly devoid of structures which would provide a functional connection to the waterway.”
And for the Railroad North (Forbes) area, “Additionally, CZM analysis of the land in the Railroad North planning unit indicates that while this area is in substantial conformance with the physical suitability criteria for possessing a topography that is conducive to industrial use…the land area does not possess a substantially developed shoreline which creates a functional connection to DPA waters. To the contrary, this review found that the Railroad North planning unit is not in conformance with the substantially developed shoreline…is either undeveloped or bordered by coastal resource areas. CZM finds that although a portion of the Railroad North shoreline includes a bulkhead, the area lacks a functional connection to the DPA waterway because the waters adjacent to the bulkhead have shoaled.”
So, CZM found that the Railroad South and Railroad North, as well as the portion of the MBTA railroad associated with these, should be removed from the DPA. It was an outcome the City wasn’t even asking for. The area along the Creek on Eastern Avenue where Gulf Oil is located was not eligible to be reviewed and was not considered.
“They removed them because those parcels don’t belong there anyway,” said Ambrosino. “The one parcel we were hoping would come out [of the DPA] didn’t come out and we are disappointed.”
A final draft is expected in the coming months.
Meanwhile, a Waterfront Visioning Process began in December with residents and community groups giving input as to what they would like to see there. That effort, now, is hampered by the lack of options due to the DPA designation.
That process will continue, though, Ambrosino said.
“They have to be mindful to suggest things that are consistent with the fact it’s a DPA, but the process is an effort to start the conversation about a Harbor Plan,” he said.
To redevelop waterfront areas like Chelsea Creek, a municipality must prepare a Harbor Plan, and the City does not currently have one. The Visioning Group is the first step in that process and that is expected to last about six months.
Ambrosino said the Harbor Plan could cost as much as $200,000, but he hopes to secure grants to pay for it.
“We hope to seek funding to develop that plan,” he said. “A Plan can cost anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 and we will seek Seaport Economic Council dollars, likely this spring, for that effort.”
The decision was a blow to what many residents on the eastern side of the city and City Planners had hoped would be a thriving new recreational and economic development district located on what has been no man’s land for generations. Ambrosino said they will wait to see what the final decision says, but that a request for another review cannot be made for five years.