ZBA Grants Variance for “temporary” Encore Parking Lot

Monday night, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved a variance allowing for a 625-space outdoor community parking lot on Air Force Road in the Village.

The lot was initially introduced as an employee parking lot late last year by Wynn officials at Encore Boston Harbor. But at a ZBA meeting in January, Wynn officials switched the plan to the community parking lot, which would be open to commuters and residents as well as providing some overflow parking for the casino and employee parking.

The variance from the ZBA was needed because outdoor parking facilities are not allowed by right in the Riverfront Overlay District.

The plan by Wynn officials is to keep the parking lot open for three years, with development of that 6.5-acre parcel for other uses after that time.

“This is going to be a community lot, not an employee lot, and it can be used by anyone,” said Chris Gordon, president of Wynn Massachusetts Design and Development. “There will be overflow parking for Encore employees, and there will be a charge to use the lot, with the first three hours being free.”

The three free hours will allow residents to use the RiverWalk and playground being constructed on the site, according to Gordon. He added that the lot will be staffed and monitored 24 hours per day.

There was concern about the community lot by some City officials when it was first changed from an employee lot last month.

But on Monday night, the major issues of concern were mainly raised by the local Bike-to-the-Sea group, who were worried about increased traffic and safety issues, especially at the Prescott Street access point.

“We support this project with some conditions and concerns,” said Margaret Lee, an Everett resident and Bike-to-the-Sea member. She and several other group members said they would like to see a gate closing off access to the bike path at Prescott Street.

City Councilor Michael McLaughlin initially balked when Wynn officials changed the project to a community lot. But after some engineering tweaks and discussions with Wynn, the councilor said he now supports the three-year use of the parcel as a temporary parking lot.

However, McLaughlin said, the residents in the neighborhood do not want to see the Prescott Street access gated off.

“The residents of the neighborhood want the gate open,” he said. “If it is closed, there will be a bottleneck for the entire neighborhood.”

He added that the City can work with Encore to ensure a better system for safety and traffic mitigation at the bike path.

Gordon noted that there will be improvements made at that area, but that it will be up to city officials as to whether the gate will be opened or closed.

Tony Sousa, the City’s planning and development director, said he supported the Encore parking lot with a number of conditions which the ZBA included in its decision.

Some of those conditions included not allowing long-term parking of more than 30 days at the lot, improvements to the Prescott Street crossing of the Northern Strand bike path, and for the variance to expire after three years, with an option for Encore to reapply for a new variance if it wishes to keep using the parking lot beyond that time.

Gordon said he does not expect there to be an extension of the variance.

“That (lot) is worth more to the City and to us as a development,” he said. “We don’t intend to leave it as a parking lot.” The Air Force Road lot will be in addition to the 823-space parking lot across from the Wynn site on Lower Broadway that has already been approved for temporary overflow parking. That lot would be in operation by a third-party for up to three years and would serve to accommodate additional traffic related to the casino and the new HarborWalk park upon opening.

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