Rising Tide Trouble for Seaport?
Alarm over climate change ratcheted up this week with release of a UN group’s report. Boston—with its hot Seaport District—is especially threatened as oceans rise faster and become more polluted. But commercial real estate players, alert to the dangers, aren’t panicking, says Goulston & Storrs’ Matt Kiefer.
Hundreds of scientists contributed to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released Monday that warns economic growth could slow, and food and water supplies become contaminated, unless people reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report adds to mounting concern over the issue and greater scrutiny among public officials, lenders, investors and insurers of how developers and owners are safeguarding properties, says Matt, a land use attorney and a chair of Goulston’s climate change resiliency task force. Property owners are following new and upcoming regulatory changes by city, state and federal agencies; considering implications for their insurance, and measures they can take to safeguard properties, he says.
Many Seaport development sites are in flood-prone areas, as this map by the Boston Harbor Association indicates. So insurers are asking if owners have flood-proofed their buildings. Owners have to ask insurers if they can get coverage, how much, and at what cost? Only in rare instances would they be denied coverage, Matt says. To get city permits for new construction, developers must assess their projects’ vulnerability to climate change, according to a new zoning ordinance. Buildings that can’t keep water out have to be resilient i.e. not go out of service if flooded and when inundated, recover quickly.
Boston Harbor Association President Vivien Li says that because Boston has been addressing the issue for years, major new projects do take climate change preparedness measures. On Pier 4, where Hanover is developing a $200M, 369-apartment multifamily building (above), New England Development is going through permitting for the second of three buildings planned for the 1M SF complex: a 350k SF office. The mechanical vault is elevated and the garage can be closed rapidly during sea surges.
Mohegan Sun, which is proposing to build a casino in Revere, moved the underground parking garage above ground level, says Vivien (above). Wynn, hoping to build in Everett, proposes to install a living coastline that has vegetation and marsh grasses that would absorb water and ameliorate the impact from storm surges and excess water. But, the bigger challenge is how to protect older, existing properties, says Vivien, whose office is in a 100-year-old brick building at the waterfront.