After years of debating, development at Port Norfolk wins approval by city

A newly released rendering shows how the Port Norfolk waterfront might look after the city-approved redevelopment. Sketch courtesy of RODE Architects, Inc.

City planning officials last week signed off on a 3.6-acre development that will add three buildings to the tip of Dorchester’s Port Norfolk peninsula, a once busy industrial and commercial site that is now home to a distillery and a restaurant.

The board of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) approved the project, known as Neponset Wharf or 24 Ericsson, last Thursday. First proposed in 2017, the project now goes to the Zoning Board of Appeal. It also requires approval from state environmental officials due to its waterfront location.

The project site, much of it covered by asphalt, now contains three vacant marina buildings and as well as an empty office and retail building. The shoreline also includes a concrete block that has fallen into disrepair.

Port Norfolk has a long history as a home to commercial and industrial companies, including a nail company, yacht builders, and ice cream makers.

The Neponset Wharf project, a joint venture between South Boston-based City Point Capital and RISE Together, a developer headquartered in Port Norfolk, calls for two residential buildings, with one including retail space, and a new mixed-use building consisting of offices and residences. The boathouse would be replaced, and the developers plan to add a harbor walk, pedestrian pathways, and a fishing pier, providing public access to the waterfront.

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The developers have reduced the gross square footage of the project and the number of bedrooms from initial plans. The development now calls for 120 residential units, where previous versions included 150 units, a 25-room hotel, and a fourth building on the site.

The project offers a small footprint for retail and a restaurant (3,600 square feet), which would share the peninsula with Boston Harbor Distillery, which is housed inside the former Putnam Nail Company facility, and Venezia, the Italian restaurant that has been a Port Norfolk mainstay for more than 20 years.

Kevin Deabler, a Dorchester resident who is principal and cofounder of architectural firm RODE, which worked on the project, said the neighborhood’s waterfront access is part of the project’s appeal.

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“You talk to any architect and any developer, any person associated with real estate, having a chance to be on the water is a hugely appealing aspect of this,” he said. “It’s really just been a new kind of a challenge to try to make that work for the neighborhood.”

The project’s scale is different from Boston’s Seaport area and Quincy’s Marina Bay neighborhood, which is located across the Neponset River.

“It’s really intended to be more appealing to those who can walk there, ride their bikes, and get there without driving,” Deabler said.

To combat climate change and rising sea levels, the project’s plans include building elevation, site grading, and floodproofing efforts.

But some local residents remain unhappy with the project, arguing that it’s built on a floodplain and that the buildings are too tall.

“This entire area is already being flooded and it will get far worse,” Maria Lyons, a Port Norfolk resident for 40 years, said in a message to the Reporter. “It makes no sense putting large projects here.”

For their part, proponents note that the project site has been a marina for two centuries and the proposal has gone through multiple iterations over the last five years in response to community comment.

“It is really about trying to bring back what’s there,” Deabler said. “We’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before. It’s more about a matter of maintaining and restoring this part of Dorchester.”

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