A zoning change that would accommodate temporary parking uses for Encore Boston Harbor gained approval from the City Council on Monday night in an 8-1 vote – even amidst concerns about the tax revenues that could be lost to a temporary parking lot.
The plan was to change the zoning for three years in the Lower Broadway Urban Renewal Area only – a change that would sunset in three years. It was driven by a request from Encore Boston Harbor, who wishes to use the 800-space lot for initial overflow parking, local resident parking and other needs while they await permitting and design of a major hotel development on the site.
Encore’s Jacqui Krum said the lot would be open to the public and would be operated by a third party. At this point, there has been no confirmation, but Mayor Carlo DeMaria seems to be warm to the idea that the City would run the lot and reap the revenues from it as well.
Krum said they do intend to develop the property as a hotel to accompany the resort casino site, but that is at least three years of permitting. She assured that they would not leave it a parking lot, which is why they agreed to the provision sunsetting after three years.
“What we’re recognizing is, first, we could let it sit and wait until we are ready for our development or we could use it in the interim until we get our mode splits working correctly,” she said. “We don’t want it to be a commuter parking lot and the City doesn’t either. We want to make sure the residents have access to the facility and the HarborWalk, but we are charging enough so that it doesn’t make sense to be long-term parking for commuters.”
Encore’s John Tocco said they would use it for overflow parking while the initial rush is on – before people begin to learn how to use the T, the water shuttle or the buses. He said there would be no employee parking, and there would be no discounts or validation from the casino for its patrons.
Councilor Rosa DiFlorio had concerns that by taking down all the buildings and businesses on Lower Broadway, the City could lose significant tax revenues as open air lots don’t generate as much revenue.
“With the businesses knocked down and the houses knocked down, we lose tax revenues,” she said. “Businesses could pay $12,000 in taxes. Who makes that up? I’m concerned about the loss of revenues.”
Mayor DeMaria said there would be a per-car fee and the property would be assessed at the highest value – along the lines of the high prices paid for the properties. With the collection of parking fees, and the higher assessments, the City would make far more money on the property that it did when everything was intact.
Councilor Wayne Matewsky, who lives in the area, said he supports the idea of cleaning up the area and offering temporary parking. However, he said he thinks there needs to be a better system in place for crossing to the resort. At this point, the plan is to use landscaping and other design features to funnel people to one crosswalk.
He advocated for a pedestrian bridge over the roadway, but Krum said that was something they only agreed to if and when Encore fully developed the other side. It was not promised, she said, for the interim parking measures.
“Right now, just for the construction workers, when they stop traffic for them, it backs up pretty good,” he said. “I would hope they can sequence the lights better because right now for one worker, it stops traffic for five minutes. It’s pathetic.”
Councilor Fred Capone, who represents that area, said he wanted to wait to vote on the measure because it isn’t just for the Encore property, but rather for the whole Lower Broadway area. He was concerned about other entities who might come in with parking plans.
“I don’t have a concert about this group and how they will use the property,” he said. “My concern is this is not spot zoning. It’s all of Lower Broadway. I am concerned about some future company that comes in and is not so intent on operating a nice parking facility and isn’t as responsible, and they would get this too. If we postpone this one meeting, I can’t see that being a hardship.”
However, Tocco said there would need to be work started this summer in order to get the parking, landscaping and drainage done by Encore’s opening in June 2019. Getting a start this year is critical, he said, and the next meeting isn’t until September.
With that, the Council voted to approve 8-1, with Capone against.
The Council will vote to ordain the change at its next meeting.
The matter received a unanimous positive recommendation from the Planning Board late last month.