Development welcome, Port Norfolkers say, but traffic’s the big hurdle

A dense new development comprising housing, a 25-room hotel, retail, parking, a swath of green space, and a refurbished marina could be coming to the MarineMax/Russo Marine site in Port Norfolk, local residents were told at a workshop last Saturday.

RODE Architects, in concert with South Boston-based City Point Capital, will be developing the 7.6-acre parcel of prime waterfront land and updating the existing marina. The architects pitched neighbors on the concept and solicited feedback from the gathering at the Boston Winery.

While looking favorably on potential development, attendees voiced intense concerns about traffic bottlenecks and the potential strain on nearby villages.

“We’re well aware of the history of this site, which goes back well over 400 years throughout the history of Boston, and there’s always been some sort of port or maritime use,” said Kevin Deabler of RODE Architects. “It’s kind of a very special place for that reason, among others.”

The plans are, developers note, at an extremely early stage. While they have a preliminary idea on green space, building type and layout, nothing is set in stone and the community’s input will be incorporated throughout the process.

In addition to the housing, hotel, retail and marina pieces, current development plans have about 71,300 square feet of boat storage, sales and service facilities being razed to make way for a seven-building, 330,000-square-foot Neponset Wharf project on the river side, according to a letter of intent submitted to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

Deabler highlighted the proposed public space for the stretch of land closest to Tenean Beach. “When you‘re out there, the views are amazing, and right now they’re just not accessible to the public,” he said.

Nearly every question raised by attendees during the presentation came back to traffic and zoning. The site is accessible by Port Norfolk, Lawley, and Walnut streets, all of which pass through a primarily residential area. The Port is also, attendees noted, a public transit desert. They complained of unreliable bus service and a lack of access to the Red Line as it passes nearby en route to Braintree. The 195 parking spaces proposed for the project would need to accommodate cars from residents, marina traffic, and any retail uses, a logistical prospect that some met with skepticism.

“I think the entire neighborhood has many, many concerns,” one man said. “But I think of two of them; one is traffic, and the other is parking. And my rough guess [is that] you have about half the parking that you’d actually need.”

Others made note of a neighborhood planning report put together during Mayor Raymond Flynn’s tenure, which they feel should be factored into any new development of that scale.

“The fact is that Port Norfolk is a 19th-century neighborhood,” said Ed Roche. “That’s when it was built, that’s when it was constructed – and you see everywhere around it the infrastructure and the architecture that was developed at that time, and it’s been relatively preserved. And that was identified for us very clearly in that planning report.”

As presented on Saturday, the proposal would include four substantial buildings and three smaller mixed-height structure. Placed amidst the proposed green space, one building would include the hotel, a lobby, 43 residential units, about 70 parking spaces in two floors of structure parking garage, and a bike room. Another would hold 21 units of residential housing, along with a lobby and bike room.

The plan calls for marina uses and boat slips to be maintained and renovated, and augmented with new over-water structures and on-land boat storage, according to the letter of intent. Smaller buildings like a “shore shack” for refreshments, locker rooms, bait-and-tackle, and fueling areas would be placed around the site.

Alongside the Venezia Restaurant and abutting the marina, the development team is proposing a 75-boat boathouse and a fourth mixed-use building. The building would include about 110 parking spaces, room for a restaurant, 86 residential units, a lobby, and a bike room.

The Boston Harbor Distillery, Venezia, and the Boston Winery are outside of the project area and are not included in the plan.

Among the benefits listed in the City Point Capital letter: “Improving existing marine uses; introducing new waterfront uses, including possible water transportation links; enhancing public access to the Neponset River; providing public amenities including various programmed open spaces.”

The development team is currently focused on general site layout, with more in-depth rendering to come.

In accordance with the BPDA’s Article 80 Large Project Review process, an independent traffic study is planned to monitor vehicle flows through the area and any potential points of concern. The next stage in the process is creating an Impact Advisory Group before a series of public meetings kicks off.