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Massive Proposed Waterfront Development in Charlestown to Include Flood Barrier

Massive Proposed Waterfront Development in Charlestown to Include Flood Barrier

A proposed redevelopment of the former Domino Sugar refinery on the Mystic River in Charlestown would open the waterfront to public access for the first time in decades. In a letter of intent filed with the Boston Planning and Development Agency on September 28, Braintree-based developer The Flatley Co. outlined its ambitious plans for the parcel it acquired years ago. The 1.7-million-square-foot mixed-use development proposed for the 21-acre site will include a 22-foot flood barrier that will protect more than 200 acres of Charlestown and significant portions of Somerville and Cambridge from storm surges as sea levels continue rising.

Charlestown Development Photo Courtesy of Nelson

Located at 425 Medford Street, the parcel was acquired by Flatley in 1994. The developer also owns two adjacent parcels – Schrafft’s City Center and 465 Medford Street – thereby owning more than 46 acres of waterfront space in Charlestown. More than 50% of the proposed development will consist of open space, including an extension of the Boston Harborwalk, parks, a public dock and networks of parkways, plazas and connecting pathways.

The sprawling mixed-use campus envisioned in the letter of intent will include a hotel, offices, lab space, retail space and residential buildings. More significantly, however, the proposed development will drastically alter the largely asphalt-covered, industrial-zoned waterfront. Specifically, the developer is proposing the construction of a 22-foot flood barrier designed to ward off coastal flooding down the line. According to estimates, significant storm surges could impact the area starting around 2070, as sea levels continue to rise across the region.

The “resilient flood barrier,” as it’s described in the LOI, will be constructed along a three-quarter-mile stretch of land along the river. To develop the barrier, the land there will be raised to an elevation of 22 feet above base sea level. The barrier will incorporate many elements that will open up the waterfront there for the first time since the 1950s when the Domino Sugar refinery was built. From the 1860s until that time, the site was the location of Dewey Beach, the sole swimming area in Charlestown.

Flatley envisions a flood barrier that incorporates many public-facing elements, including the aforementioned extension of the Boston Harborwalk, recreational and park areas, boat and kayak launches, a public dock and public lookout areas. A series of open spaces will connect the neighborhood to the water. The flood barrier will protect approximately 220 acres of Charlestown from dangerous storm surges, and it will also protect approximately 100 additional acres in parts of Somerville and Cambridge.

Since the refinery closed in 1988, the site has essentially languished and been little more than an eyesore and impediment to pedestrians and others wanting to reach the waterfront. According to Flatley, water shuttles could be included in the new design, and the developer will also work to preserve views of the water from nearby Bunker Hill. The mixed-use development, which Flatley has been planning in fits and starts for years, is being designed by an architectural planning and design team that includes Nelson and the Weston & Sampson landscape design studio.

This is just the latest in a long series of significant land and development deals in Charlestown. Up Medford Street from the proposed development, work has started on converting the Boston Housing Authority’s Charlestown public housing complex into another mixed-use campus. Over on Rutherford Avenue, the former Hood Milk plant site is being redeveloped into an office and housing campus.

Per Flatley, the development will be constructed across multiple phases. The first phase will center around the proposed waterfront improvements, revitalizing the waterfront and making it accessible while protecting the area from rising sea levels in the future.