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Parks and housing along Eastie waterfront? It could happen if Mayor Wu gets her way

Industrial restrictions on East Boston's waterfront "no longer serve the community’s needs and are not aligned with the future of the neighborhood," Wu said.

Mayor Michelle Wu has called for the removal of industrial restrictions along stretches of East Boston’s waterfront, potentially opening the door to more waterfront park space. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff )

Mayor Michelle Wu has called for the removal of “Designated Port Area” restrictions along stretches of East Boston’s waterfront, a move that could open the space up for parks and affordable housing.

In a Monday letter to Beth Card, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Wu asked that the city be allowed to replace the Designated Port Area restrictions with “community resilience zoning,” which would offer affordable housing and flood-resilient open space in return. 

Massachusetts has 10 DPAs, areas intended to promote and protect water-dependent industrial uses such as commercial fishing, shipping, and manufacturing, according to the Office of Coastal Zone Management

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In her letter, Wu wrote that the majority of the DPA restrictions along East Boston’s Inner Harbor and the Chelsea Creek “no longer serve the community’s needs and are not aligned with the future of the neighborhood.”

East Boston has historically gained economic value from its access to the waterfront, and DPA restrictions and state law have protected that public value, according to Wu. 

Michael Dwyer
The view of downtown from the East Boston waterfront, April 2020.

In the 1800s, East Boston was one of the leading ports and shipbuilding areas in the U.S., according to a 2021 Coastal Zone Management office report

However, Wu continued, “these lands no longer support port uses and the restrictions are now hindering our efforts to create public value in other ways,” including open space on the waterfront. 

She also acknowledged some properties with ongoing water-dependent uses, including a Massachusetts Port Authority-owned shipyard, and said her office supports maintaining DPA restrictions in those limited cases.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency requested in January 2020 that CZM review portions of the East Boston DPA boundary. Coastal Zone Management staff subsequently recommended that nearly nine acres be removed from the East Boston DPA at Jeffries Point, bringing the total land area down to 88.57 acres. 

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But lifting the restrictions without appropriate planning could “exacerbate displacement pressures and speculative real estate investment,” according to Wu.

She proposed tying the lifting of DPA restrictions with new zoning that would require developers on former DPA properties to include contributions to affordable housing, as well as open space investments that protect the neighborhood from rising sea levels and flooding.

“These lands have the unique ability to help address East Boston’s most pressing needs,” she said, listing resilient infrastructure, affordable housing, space for local businesses, and access to reliable and sufficient food and services as some of those needs.

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