A prominent Boston developer has filed plans with the city to move ahead on a controversial project — which has been in the works for over a decade — that would bring a 600-foot-tall, $1 billion skyscraper to the downtown waterfront.
The Chiofaro Company submitted a Letter of Intent with the Boston Planning and Development Agency Nov. 20 to transform 70 East India Row, currently the site of Harbor Garage, adjacent to Atlantic Avenue, into a modern high-rise.
The vision calls for an up to 900,000-square-foot tower, potentially with a mix of shops, restaurants, offices, residences, and/or a hotel, according to the filing. Notably, the project would include “a destination outdoor gathering space” providing for access to Boston Harbor, the letter says.
The formal proposal comes just after the state-approved “Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan” — developed over years of talks between developers, neighboring sites, community groups, and city officials — was codified into the Boston Zoning Code earlier this month.
“We have an enormous responsibility to the city after a lengthy and inclusive (Municipal Harbor Plan) process, where a wide range of contributors worked collectively to lay the groundwork for ‘Boston’s next great place.’ This project will be the catalyst for that transformation. It’s time to allow residents of – and visitors to – Boston the opportunity to enjoy the full potential of our city’s waterfront,” Don Chiofaro, the company’s president and founder, said in a statement.
But the proposal still comes amid criticism.
Two lawsuits challenging the state’s approval of the zoning changes and the project are pending in Suffolk Superior Court, and it’s not likely that they’ll go away anytime soon.
Just last month, Judge Brian Davis allowed parts of both to continue after rejecting motions to dismiss the two lawsuits, brought by the Conservation Law Foundation and residents of the neighboring Harbor Towers condo complex, The Boston Globe reports.
Here’s what to know about the project and the surrounding controversy:
While architectural designs from the firm of Kohn Pederson Fox Associates are forthcoming, developers are already laying out some of the larger details of their plans, including 28,000 square feet of public open space alongside the city’s waterfront.
“By removing the seven story, block-long barrier of the existing garage, the project will open both visual and physical access from the Greenway to the harbor, creating new connections and inviting the diverse cross-section of visitors who enjoy the Greenway’s Rings Fountain across the street to experience the water firsthand,” the Chiofaro Company said in a press release.
Developers are also expecting to tap into the foot traffic to the site, pointing to plans calling for multiple floors of retail shopping and other amenities. The project would also create an underground parking facility “with substantial public capacity,” the letter says.
The site would incorporate climate resilient features based off the city’s “Climate Ready Downtown and North End” plan, developers say.
“We are excited about how the design work has progressed and, over the next few months, we’ll be refining our ideas and preparing to shift from talking in the abstract about aspirations to engaging in a robust public discussion of a real design,” Don Chiofaro Jr., company vice president and project manager, said in a statement.
Even outside of the BPDA’s review process, the project still has some ways to go.
In its lawsuit, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Boston-based environmental advocacy group, says the zoning changes, created by the city and approved by the state, do not do enough to ensure that the public maintains access to the waterfront and let dense development encroach upon the historic harbor, The Globe reports.
Even though municipal officials authored the zoning amendments, state approval was required because of how close the sites are to protected tidelands, according to the newspaper.
“It is unacceptable that this plan allows developers to buy their way out of regulations they don’t like,” CLF senior counsel Peter Shelley told the Globe last month after Davis allowed parts of the lawsuits to proceed. “The public’s right to access the waterfront has been guaranteed for generations, and officials have singlehandedly undermined that right. The municipal harbor planning process is broken, and we’re looking forward to proving it in court.”
Last week, as the Chiofaro Company filed its Letter of Intent, CLF said, “Any developer that advances a project based on the variances in this current plan does so at their own financial risk.”
Meanwhile, residents of Harbor Towers have their own lawsuit making its way through the court system in an effort to block the development and challenge the new zoning parameters, according to The Globe. They say the tower is too massive to be harbor side.
“The state’s regulations require waterfront development to be ‘relatively modest,’” spokesman Tom Palmer said in October. “The court’s ruling allows us to make the case that a 600-foot, 900,000-square-foot tower is anything but modest and will harm public access to the waterfront.”
Citing the court’s decision, Palmer told the newspaper “it is premature to try to move forward on a project” after the company filed its plans.
According to The Globe, the nearby New England Aquarium and the company are still negotiating over parking impacts and how to help make sure the aquarium doesn’t lose business while the tower is built, if the project is approved.
Chiofaro Company executive Rob Caridad told the Globe last week that the company believes “strongly that our interests align, far more than they diverge, with Harbor Towers and CLF.”
“We think the best way to advance the conversation is to remove the mystery about what we’re thinking,” he said.
Developers are hoping to receive BPDA approval for the project sometime in the next year to 18 months, according to the newspaper.