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From ports to parks: Wu asks state to lift industrial restrictions along Eastie waterfront

The city wants to sharply reduce protected industrial land along East Boston’s waterfront to make way for parks and affordable housing.

Mayor Michelle Wu is asking state officials to lift rules that set aside much of the East Boston waterfront for maritime and industrial uses, in hopes it will enable more development of park space.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Mayor Michelle Wu on Monday asked the state’s top environmental official to lift “Designated Port Area” restrictions on a number of properties along East Boston’s waterfront, potentially opening them up for park construction or developments beyond the maritime industrial uses allowed there today.

In return, Wu pledged to create a “community resilience” zone along the water’s edge that would allow for open space investments to protect East Boston from sea level rise and flooding, and help boost the city’s stock of affordable housing.

In a letter to Beth Card, the state’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, Wu wrote that most of the DPA’s industrial restrictions along East Boston’s Inner Harbor and along Chelsea Creek “no longer serve the community’s needs and are not aligned with the future of the neighborhood.” But Wu also said she doesn’t want to remove the restrictions in a way that would exacerbate “displacement pressures and speculative real estate investment.”

Wu sent the letter as part of a public comment process tied to a request that the Boston Planning & Development Agency made in early 2020 to the state’s Coastal Zone Management office, which is overseen by Card, to review the DPA borders along East Boston’s inner harbor. One of the main goals: stimulating the construction of more water-resilient infrastructure. As a result, Coastal Zone Management staff recommended that nearly nine acres at Jeffries Point be removed from the nearly 100-acre DPA. These areas, which are not all contiguous, already include some non-industrial uses, such as the shopping plaza anchored by a supermarket off Border Street in Central Square. (A separate process is underway to remove several parcels in East Boston and Revere from the DPA along Chelsea Creek.)

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That proposed reduction in size in the Inner Harbor DPA does not go far enough for the Wu administration, and the BPDA is expected to submit a more technical response in the coming weeks detailing the changes that Wu and BPDA director Arthur Jemison would like to see.

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Wu wrote that most of the properties within the DPA “no longer support port uses and the restrictions are now hindering our efforts to create public value in other ways.” She noted that public open space along the water’s edge is largely prohibited in these industrial areas.

Many of these sites are underused, but Wu said her administration believes they have a “unique ability” to help address East Boston’s pressing needs for flood-resilient infrastructure, affordable housing, and space for local businesses. Her administration envisions a set of land-use controls that would require former DPA properties in East Boston to support affordable housing and resilient, open space.

The administration does want to keep some properties industrially zoned in East Boston, where important water-dependent uses are still in effect, such as the Massachusetts Port Authority-owned shipyard occupied by companies such as Boston Pilots and Sea Machines Robotics.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.