By Matt Conti
The proposed hotel project at Lewis Wharf has been thrown into question after the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that a new development cannot extend over pilings or piers that are below water at high tide. Since much of the piling field at Lewis Wharf is not visible at high tide, the DEP ruling could dramatically reduce the size of the area where the proposed hotel was to be built. “Regarding the proposed Lewis Wharf Project, the Department believes that this regulatory clarification will result in a substantially reduced project shoreline,” the DEP said in its report. There is a 30-day comment period before a final ruling.
The active neighborhood group opposing the project, Save the North End Waterfront, took the DEP’s clarification as a major victory. “DEP’s findings should mark the end of plans to build a massive luxury hotel at this site,” stated North End resident Jennifer Crampton.
JW Capital has proposed a 277 key, 5-story, multi-building hotel at the end of Lewis Wharf. The designation of the piling field on which the project is proposed to be built has been questioned since the proposal emerged in 2015.
Abutting residents are calling on the Boston Redevelopment Authority to stop the hotel proposal based on the DEP’s findings. “It’s not appropriate to build a luxury hotel of this size and density over Commonwealth tidelands, and we hope that the BRA will respond accordingly,” said resident Michael Malm.
The controversial Lewis Wharf hotel project has been debated at several meetings. Local elected officials have come out strongly opposing the project, including Boston City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, the four Boston At-Large Councilors, State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, and State Senator Joseph Boncore. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has not taken a public position on the subject.
The DEP clarification restricting development on submerged piling fields and wharves could also signal upcoming roadblocks for other potential waterfront development sites at the Seaport and North End / Waterfront area, including the Harbor Garage, Sargent’s Wharf and Hook Lobster. The State’s Chapter 91 and environmental regulations are often seen as more friendly to public concerns than the City’s development-focused zoning process.