Time for Change on the Waterfront? Grant will Study Industrial Waterfront Zone

The industrial waterfront on Lower Broadway has always been something accepted by Everett residents as no-go territory – a place with a lot of potential, but one that has been blocked off from the community for two generations, if not more. On that waterfront, there are nearly 300 acres of land in the state’s Designated Port Area (DPA) zone – a zone that requires all uses inside of the boundaries to be for maritime industrial purposes. That has been a limiting factor for Everett for more than 50 years on its waterfront, as nothing else but those uses can take place there. To date, it has stopped strong businesses like Schnitzer Steel and Mystic Generating Station – among others, but it has not allowed any access to one of the more beautiful sections of waterfront in the city. That could all change as the City has received a $100,000 grant and the support of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to study the DPA on Everett’s waterfront – which is adjacent to the Encore Boston Harbor casino – and perhaps change some of the restrictions on those uses there. “It’s the first time we’re taking a focused look on uses in the DPA,” said City Planner Tony Sousa. “The study is going to look at the potential of what it could be. We are very thankful to the MGC for getting it started. They agree with us that this is the next frontier.” DPAs – prior to COVID-19 – have been under fire over the last five years as construction of housing has fired up, and most want to live near downtown and on the waterfront. Few places fit the bill like the Lower Mystic River in Everett, Chelsea and Charlestown.

Already, last year, neighborhood leaders in Charlestown threatened to take another look at the DPA in Charlestown to unlock some parcels for recreation. That was dropped when several amenities were included in a new lease agreement with MassPort. In Chelsea, a full review of their DPA with the Coastal Zone Management agency in 2018 bore mixed results. Some parts Chelsea wanted out of its DPA on the Chelsea Creek were kept in, and other places they weren’t excited about particularly were taken out. It is a process that is full up to CZM and to the maritime businesses that inhabit the DPA. That said, including the MGC, believe the Everett DPA could be a different story given that a $2.1 billion resort casino lies but 200 yards from the boundary of the DPA. This has also been a fact that Mayor Carlo DeMaria has touted for many years, most recently when Encore opened last summer. Tom Philbin, waterfront and resiliency director for Everett, said there are plenty of examples of DPAs throughout Massachusetts being altered for different uses, including hotels and HarborWalks. Sousa said he could envision some sort of cruise ship terminal to complement

Black Falcon in the Seaport and to serve Encore. Meanwhile, he said a helicopter heliport that is needed in Greater Boston could be located in the DPA as well. He said it will also be important to work with the strong businesses that are there, and also to complement the plans being made for Lower Broadway in the future by Encore and others. “I’m super-excited because this is what starts it all – the Lower Broadway Master Plan we’ve been talking about for years,” he said. “There will be transformative. It’s hard to believe we have the ability and it can open up a lot of opportunities to build off the strong businesses that are there. We were really excited as a City to get that grant. It’s always been, ‘Hey, it’s the DPA. We can’t do anything.’ This will be looking at it with an open mind.” Philbin said the first step will be procuring the grant money from the MGC, and then getting a consultant on board sometime in July or August. That will lead to a one-year study which will solicit community and business input, and will update the existing Municipal Harbor Plan done several years ago ahead of Encore’s construction. That study will then be submitted in 2021, likely, to CZM, who will analyze it and look to see if there is any room for altering the DPA in Everett.

There are about 100 additional acres of land in the DPA that is over the City Line in Chelsea, and they will likely become a partner eventually in the study.

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