A non-profit group that wants to put affordable housing on 7 1/2 acres of East Boston waterfront it owns is suing the state agency that says the land can only be used for marine industries - or yacht storage - even though the land has no docks or access to the harbor's main shipping channel.
In a suit filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, the East Boston Community Development Corp. (EBCDC) says the state's Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) ignored the fact that getting the land shipshape for ships would require dredging "tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated sediments" and construction of piers and bulkheads, which could cost tens of millions of dollars - and would still require convincing the rest of the increasingly residential neighborhood to allow steady truck traffic to and from 1A.
CZM ruled on Dec. 22 that two parcels owned by the group - a large parcel right on the water at 80 Border St. and a smaller, landlocked parcel at 102 Border St. would continue to be part of a "designated port area" in which residential buildings are banned. The area includes 36 New St., which in fact does have a wharf and docks able to handle boats larger than a water taxi.
EBCDC had asked the state to remove its land's designation as a port area both because it can't currently be used for that, not without extensive and expensive work, and because it once marketed the larger of the two sites for that purpose and, after years and years, got no takers.
And besides, the lawsuit continues, the state's own regulations say land can only be considered port-worthy if it includes "a shoreline that has been substantially developed with piers, wharves, bulkheads, or other structures that establish a functional connection with a water area," rather than "shallow tidal flats that extend hundreds of feet into the harbor" with no piers, wharves or bulkheads and that the land needs to be in "close proximity" to railways or truck routes.
102 Border St. doesn't even border any land with active seaport potential - although the state says the land is part of the designated port area that includes 36 New St., the parcel between the two sites - 60 Border St. - is currently home to "an office building with very limited waterfront." And while a nearby supermarket gets deliveries by truck, that's hardly the same as a heavy-duty truck route, the group says.
In contrast, what East Boston desperately needs, the group says, is more housing. And that is something EBCDC says it could get built - since its founding in 1970, EBCDC has built or purchased more than 740 affordable residential units - most apartments - as well as provided space to local artists and small businesses, some serving the local maritime industry.
Also, the group says, the land sits in what the state would consider an "environmental justice" area, where future environmental problems would disproportionately hit poor and and minority residents. Arguing that residents of the surrounding area would show up en masse to oppose any heavy industrial use of the land, even were the group to propose it, the group says the only alternative allowed by the state - a boatyard to sheath yachts in plastic for winter storage - would be equally nonsensical:
It would seem contradictory to both [the state's] Environmental Justice Policy and the Commonwealth's widely publicized affordable housing goals, not to mention the purposed objective of preserving space for marine industrial uses, for CZM to thwart the production of affordable housing so that yachts might be seasonally stored in an Environmental Justice Block Group.
Through the lawsuit, EBCDC is asking for a ruling that CZM was "based upon an error of law" and was arbitrary and capricious and should be overturned to let the group begin to explore putting housing on the site.
Complete complaint - includes the CZM ruling (8.9M PDF).