Baker hopes to revive tossed-out waterfront development plans

New Developments News
A rendering of Don Chiofaro's proposed tower on the Boston waterfront. Tomorrow AB/KBF

A month after a Suffolk County judge tossed out waterfront development plans across the state — including a much-debated one in downtown Boston — the Baker administration is trying for a quick fix to a complex problem.

State environmental officials on Friday began the process of reapproving 17 municipal harbor plans that govern building along waterfronts from Gloucester to New Bedford, hoping that will be faster than appealing the ruling by Judge Brian Davis that the state has been improperly approving the plans for decades.

It’s a ruling that has thrown into doubt a number of big projects, not least among them developer Don Chiofaro’s plan for a 600-foot tower on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage. Opponents of that project — the Conservation Law Foundation and Chiofaro’s neighbors at the Harbor Towers condominium complex — filed the suit, claiming the state erred in having then-environmental secretary Matt Beaton sign off on downtown Boston’s harbor plan in 2018 — instead of the more bureaucratic Department of Environmental Protection — as is spelled out in state law.

Davis agreed and invalidated not just Boston’s downtown municipal harbor plan but 16 others that have been approved in the same way since the 1990s. The ruling upended countless projects around the state, which rely on the guidelines for building height, open space, and other design components that have been written into the harbor plans.

The Baker administration has been weighing how to respond, and on Friday said it is still considering an appeal of Davis’s ruling. Real estate trade groups also have floated the idea of changing state law to clarify the process. But in the meantime, “in order to address uncertainty about the status of municipal harbor plans,” a Baker spokeswoman said environmental regulators aim to “affirm” the existing plans through the DEP, as state law requires.

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