Port designation poses big hurdle to redevelopment of power plant lands in Everett

With a possible New England Revolution football stadium in mind, House leaders last month passed language in their Economic Development Bill to exempt the Mystic site from DPA restrictions. The Kraft Group has long sought a standalone home for the Revs in Greater Boston, separate from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, and the Mystic site has been a rumored contender for several years.

The Conservation Law Foundation went to war after the ‘Football Stadium Amendment’ was revealed, lobbying against what the group called a last-minute behind-the-scenes deal that could undermine the local maritime economy; CLF also blasted language that would exempt the property from building limits under the state’s Chapter 91 law governing tides. Time ran out in formal sessions before the House and Senate reached agreement on the broader economic development bill.

The fate of that bill — a potpourri of more than $4 billion in tax cuts and economy-related program funds — remains up in the air. So, too, is this key element of Everett’s waterfront revival. And the whole debate points to pressing questions about our former industrial waterfronts and how they should evolve.

At Mystic, a viable mixed-use project may be possible under Chapter 91 tidal rules. But the DPA issue could be a deal breaker, potentially preventing anything from being built.

That wouldn’t sit well with Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. Along with Wynn Resorts executives, DeMaria wants the site to become an entertainment and hospitality destination to complement the $2.6 billion casino Wynn opened across the street in 2019 and related development that the company is chasing down Broadway. A Revs stadium would fit perfectly with this vision. Last year, city officials gave themselves the power to take this site from factory owner Exelon — now Constellation, a spin-off of Exelon — to eminent domain if necessary.

The threat of eminent domain forced Constellation’s hand, prompting it to hire brokerage firm CBRE to market the 45 acres. It no longer uses its flap turbines there, although Eversource has an easement to operate a switchyard; another section is mostly water, unusable. Not included are two natural gas units next door. Constellation is receiving special payments to operate these two due to their importance to the New England grid, until the spring of 2024. Then what remains of this decades-old powerhouse closes permanently.

All a Constellation spokesperson would say is that the company hopes to complete the sale by the end of the year, keeping Everett’s redevelopment plan in mind.

It is in this context that the House leaders put the Everett language in the back of their economic development bill. Wire talks with the Senate were sidetracked by an unexpected revelation that the state may have to budget nearly $3 billion in income tax credits. But the bill is not dead, far from it.

Legislative leaders are awaiting clarification on the exact cost of these credits. They could choose to pass much of the bill in an informal session, when roll calls cannot be taken. Controversial articles like this Everett language are generally avoided in informal sessions because only one legislator can block a bill.

With CLF watching closely, Everett’s language is unlikely to survive in a casual session. From CLF’s perspective, maintaining the state’s port infrastructure is crucial. Once an industrial port makes way for high-end development, argues CLF’s Deanna Moran, it’s gone for good. CLF also does not want dirty oil tanks and power plants. But Moran said those properties could be ideal for “blue-tech” and clean-energy uses, like wind farm work planned for the Salem waterfront.

Lawmakers are only expected to meet in informal sessions until January, but they may be called back for a rare special formal session to wrap up tax cuts, bail proposals and other benefits from the government. law Project. In a formal session, Everett’s measure could very well pass.

Although there is precedent for removing properties from DPAs through legislation, Mystic Station’s road to redevelopment becomes considerably longer without assistance from State House. The next option is to ask the State Coastal Zone Management Office for a formal review of the DPA boundaries. The agency is currently reviewing these applications for two different areas in East Boston. One is led by warehouse developer Jacob Citrin, who wants to remove several industrial plots on Route 1A from a port area. The second is being pursued by the Boston Planning & Development Agency and concerns properties in and around Central Square.

This route can be long – as much as six months and often much longer. Citrin said he applied over two years ago and was expecting the final decision next month; BPDA launched its application in early 2020. But in the case of the Mystic plot, land-use experts say DPA regulations would likely not provide enough leeway to remove it from its respective port area. in any event.

Another possible route is even more circuitous but could prove beneficial in the long term: rewrite the rules of the DPA. The system, put in place in the 1970s, is considered by many to be anachronistic. State environmental regulators would include many waterfront actors in this process – environmental groups, landowners, municipal officials. Julie Wormser of the Mystic River Watershed Association sees this as the best possible outcome: a solid regional conversation about updating DPAs, rather than dealing with them piecemeal.

The fight for the future of this powerhouse land may end up bringing more than just relief to Revs fans who have long hoped for a football stadium to be theirs. It could end up being about the kind of future we want for industrial waterfronts in and around Boston, and what it will take to get there.

Jon Chesto can be contacted at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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