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Tovo: Could changing Seaholm parking save Green trees?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

The battle to save seven large trees facing destruction as part of the development of what once was the Green Water Treatment Plant spilled into the debate over the future of the neighboring Seaholm Power Plant at Tuesday’s City Council work session.

Council Member Kathie Tovo asked city staff members if proposed amendments to the Seaholm project’s parking garage might be altered to somehow save the endangered trees.

“It’s been asked of me whether there are any options for using this (Seaholm) parking to offset some of the need for parking at the site of the Green development so that … they might be able to redesign the project in a way to preserve some of those trees,” Tovo said. “Are there any opportunities here to make what’s before us this week work toward a goal of preserving the heritage trees on the site?”

Tovo’s questions come after growing discontent over the Council’s approval two weeks ago to allow the removal of six of the trees to make way for a $500 million mixed-use development on the Green site.  

This comes as Council prepares to decide on Thursday whether to approve an amendment to increase appropriations at the Seaholm site by more than $6 million for the creation of an onsite underground garage. The original concept was to build a freestanding aboveground garage at Seaholm, but staff research indicated that there wouldn’t be enough room for separate entrances and exits and that there is a limited amount of space available because of Capitol View Corridor limitations.

“It became clear, looking at all the different factors, it would not be appropriate for the type of garage, the amount of parking that we needed,” said Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards. Though the underground garage will cost the city $6.1 million more than the aboveground, the number of available parking spots – 315 – will be the same. Unfortunately for Tovo and supporters of the trees, not enough of the Seaholm spots would be available to Green visitors.

“There is not enough parking in the library for events at the library, and we have committed 100 of these spaces to the library,” Edwards said. “So where we had anticipated using 315 spaces for the general public, we now agreed to share that parking with the library. It could be 50 spaces at Green and 50 at Seaholm, but the preferable way now is 100 at Seaholm. Either way it would only be 50.”

“Is 315 as many (spots) as we can get?” Tovo asked.                                             

“We’re now at four levels of parking, which gets extremely expensive,” said Edwards. “And the water table prevents us from going any deeper than that.”

In addition to the proposed amendment to the Seaholm parking structure, Council will also be considering an amendment to the project’s Master Development Plan. Currently, the MDA allows office uses in the building but only retail on the ground floor. The proposed amendment would allow for other uses on the ground floor, including offices. Tovo expressed concern about the office-use amendment and asked staff if they are still considering public or civic uses, such as a museum or an events venue in the site’s main ground-floorTurbine Hall.

John Rosato, a partner with Seaholm Power LLC, the company redeveloping the decommissioned plant, said that though putting on events in the building would be a possibility, the proposed amendments are currently needed to move what has been an eight-year project into its final stages. 

“The two amendments to the MDA are driven by the market, not by us,” Rosato told Tovo. “And the amendments don’t fundamentally change any of the economics of the MDA. At this point in time, we have a site plan that’s close to being released, we’ve hired a construction company, documents are being completed, we’ve signed a lease with a major retailer – Trader Joe’s – and these actions that we’re asking for are essential for moving the project forward and to not losing the momentum and to not losing the tenants we have processed.”

When Tovo asked about the possibility of delaying the Council vote on the amendment by a week and holding a briefing and a public hearing on the amendments on Thursday, Rosato expressed in the strongest terms that any delay could “seriously compromise the future of the site.”

“We are at a point where we really are in final negotiations, and if we lose this tenant a lot of things will occur,” Rosato said. “I think people understand that the purpose of this is to save this building. … The future is bright if we get it going, and we can get it going now.”

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