ULI Boston Member Spotlight
Daniel Ramirez is the Director of Innovation for Skanska CDUS.
Special Thanks to Banker & Tradesman
In his 2020 State of the City address, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh proclaimed Boston “the most climate-friendly city in the United States.” As a coastal city uniquely vulnerable to sea-level rise, Boston has embarked on an ambitious campaign to integrate climate resilience into city planning and policy. Although the list of climate change policy efforts is long, we focus here on efforts by the City to integrate climate change planning into the permitting and development process.
In December, the Boston City Council enacted an ordinance that protects wetland resource areas beyond current state and federal regulations. Current wetlands protections focus on impacts to existing wetland and river resources. Most significantly, the new Boston ordinance focuses on anticipated future climate change impacts (most obviously sea-level rise and increased flooding risks). The new ordinance creates new flood resilience zones, subject to regulation based on predictions of sea-level rise, and directs project applicants, and the City of Boston, to consider future climate change impacts associated with projects. The ordinance creates other new protected areas, not all of which will be on the waterfront. The true effects of the ordinance on development and the environment will only become clear as implementing regulations emerge to clarify the ordinance.
This new ordinance is only the latest element in the City’s climate planning. In 2016, the Mayor’s Office published the Climate Ready Boston report, generated by an advisory group of scientists and experts, which predicts increasing temperatures, more powerful storms, and flooding from sea-level rise, and outlines climate change planning and preparedness strategies to address them.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), responsible for regulating development in the city, has taken the lead on several planning and regulatory measures addressing climate change:
As the climate changes, so too do the familiar development processes in Boston. Climate change planning and preparedness policies and regulations, unique in addressing future harms rather than preventing current ones, are here to stay. Although these policy and regulatory changes will impose costs on developers, companies and non-profit institutions as they develop new facilities – and will require development professionals to learn how to incorporate them into development approvals – their adoption is based on the belief that the cost of not dealing with climate change will be far greater.
The goals and timelines of these policies are based on future projections. These projections may change for better or worse, depending upon the effectiveness of climate policy initiatives not just in Boston, but around the world. There is no doubt that the recent wetlands ordinance and other City environmental policies will continue to evolve as more becomes known about the interactions between development and climate change.
Matthew Kiefer is a director at Goulston & Storrs who specializes in real estate development and land use law and coordinates the firm’s Climate Resilience Task Force. He is also a member of the ULI Boston/New England Advisory Board. Christian Regnier, a director at Goulston & Storrs, also specializes in real estate development and land use law. Connor O’Dwyer is a real estate associate at Goulston & Storrs.