Mayor, officials want ‘reset’ for development at Port Norfolk; join neighbors in opposing waterfront build-out

A rendering of the proposed development. Image from RODE Architects and OBJ Landscape Architecture

Elected officials are calling for the would-be developers of a controversial project at Port Norfolk to start over with their plans after a series of public meetings and comment periods left proponents and neighbors locked in a standoff.

City Point Capital, a South Boston-based company, is proposing a mixed-use but primarily residential showpiece for the current MarineMax/Russo Marine site at the tip of the peninsula. It has been rough going from the start for the developers, with residents of the small village concerned from early on about the scale of the project and its impact on the neighborhood’s traffic flow and quality of life.

“I understand the concerns of the neighborhood about the site and the current proposal,” Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement on Tuesday, joining other city and state elected officials in calling for a reboot of the plan. “I have asked the developer to review their proposal and continue engaging with the community as the process moves forward.”

City Point did not return requests for comment by press time.

The development team has already amended its designs for the Neponset Wharf project over the course of the past year. Scaled down significantly from earlier iterations, the latest vision includes a boathouse and three buildings, topping out at seven stories and containing 96 condominium units and 3,000 square feet of restaurant, retail, and supporting space, including a small neighborhood market and deli. Plans also call for 170 total parking spaces.

But to residents of the Port, it was too little, too late.

“The height is too high,” Ben Tankle wrote to the city’s planning arm. “The traffic will be horrible. The area cannot withstand such a development. It will destroy the way of life most of us enjoy.”

Tankle and other neighbors offered testimony submitted to the Boston Planning and Development Agency in recent weeks. They largely echoed the statements made during a series of city-hosted public meetings. They referenced incompatibility with existing zoning, concerns about the impact of dredging around the existing marina or altering the shorelines, and a fundamental objection to the scale of the proposal.

“They seem like they’re not able to get any agreement,” City Councillor Frank Baker told the Reporter on Tuesday. “I’m likely going to stand with other elected officials in the community and just have them go back to the drawing board. I’m not sure [neighbors] or the mayor’s office have an appetite for this kind of project.”

In a comment letter, the Neponset River Watershed Association said the developers’ presentations and responses to queries so far have not adequately addressed several concerns. A final filing, the group wrote, “should include sufficient detail for state environmental agencies and the public to determine whether the project will adequately improve water quality and protect wildlife habitat.”

Further, the letter said, association and residents “would like more information about how the property under consideration relates to the ownership and potential future development of adjoining properties.”

Of the dozens who submitted comments, most of the writers were opposed. A minority were in favor of the proposal, citing the need for new housing across the city and redesigns around the tiny peninsula.

“I am a resident of the neighborhood and remain in full support of this project,” wrote Matthew Raffio. “There are a number of headaches that will be rectified in the event this project comes to fruition. On aggregate, the positives outweigh any negatives that come with construction.”

But many objectors echoed the watershed group’s worry that there were simply not enough answers provided around the impact to the Port.

Frank Kodzis, of Walnut Street, a 60-year resident of the Port and longtime fire official, said he wanted more safety information from the developers.

“Their project is one-eighth the size of the community, but outsizes the community by 150 percent,” he wrote. “It does not take rocket science to understand that this project is too large for this area. A community is at risk and lives are at risk. I encourage you to deny this project until reasonable and safe solutions can be resolved for the neighborhood. This project is the cornerstone of all future projects in the community and we MUST get this right for the future.”

Officials said Tuesday that they are in agreement that there is a need for a fresh start.

“I think it is time for a reset with the community,” said state Rep. Dan Hunt. “There continues to be major issues with the size, scope and egress of this project.”

State Sen. Nick Collins, whose new district includes the Port, concurred. “I’ve heard from many Port Norfolk residents and community leaders of the Port Norfolk Civic Association about the project’s size and scope,” he said. “I have come to share their concerns. Therefore, I stand with the community and my colleagues in opposition to the project.”

This was welcome news for the Port Norfolk Civic Association, group president John Lyons wrote in an email

"I sincerely appreciate the support of our elected officials," he said. "They recognize that the project as proposed was not appropriate. The residents and existing business owners in Port Norfolk are not obstructionists. We raised legitimate concerns about issues which have been identified in multiple studies for more than 30 years. We remain willing to work with the developer, the BPDA, and elected officials, to engage in a process of conceptual design which fits in this unique site and community. The neighborhood context and surrounding ACEC environment must be respected. It is possible to create a project which is better for everyone, including our future neighbors."

Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@dotnews.com, or follow her on Twitter at @JennDotSmith

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