Future of Chiofaro’s Harbor Garage Skyscraper Uncertain After Court Ruling

For years now the Chiofaro Company run by developer Don Chiafaro has been trying to replace the Harbor Garage on Boston’s waterfront with a 600-foot skyscraper. 

The Proposed Project would include approximately 865,000 square feet of residential space with up to 200 units, offices, ground-floor retail and other uses to activate the streetscape. 

However, a recent court ruling has thrown the entire project in doubt after the state’s 

Last week Superior Court judge Brian Davis  ruled against the state in a lawsuit regarding the Downtown Municipal Harbor Plan for Boston and the proposed skyscraper’s place within the plan. 

Davis ruled that the state’s municipal harbor planning process unlawfully ousted the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as the exclusive agency for determining how to balance public and private rights on the waterfront, making those decisions political rather than regulatory. 

Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs signed off on the project, which opened the doors for Chiofaro’s skyscraper to get off the ground. 

However, in 2018 the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) sued, arguing state officials ignored decades-old rules governing public waterfront access and sidestepped the DEP. 

Prior to the lawsuit Chiofaro was  poised to get his development going but this worried many environmentalists that such development would harm the public’s access to the city’s waterfront. 

The public’s right to access waterfront areas has been protected under Massachusetts law and Davis ruled that the DEP is the only trustee authorized to protect and advance those public rights. 

CLF argued that the planning process for waterfront development had arbitrarily abandoned DEP’s development principles that have been in place since 1990, particularly that waterfront buildings step down in height and provide meaningful public open space.

Davis noted in his ruling that DEP rules are clear that buildings can only be 55 feet high within 100 feet of the shore. 

“Public access to Boston’s beautiful waterfront won today,” said Peter Shelley, Senior Counsel at CLF. “State officials acted unlawfully in coming up with the Downtown Municipal Harbor Plan and handed private developers a free pass to create new rules to benefit themselves. The judge saw right through this effort and affirmed that only the state’s Department of Environmental Protection can make decisions that protect the public’s centuries-old right to access the water and waterfront.”

Per Davis’s ruling the DEP will now have to revise its tidelands regulations to reflect the judge’s ruling that it has exclusive, final authority over all development proposed for on tidelands.

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