Earlier this year Superior Court judge Brian Davis ruled against the state in a lawsuit regarding the Downtown Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan for Boston and developer Don Chiafaro’s plans to replace the Harbor Garage on Boston’s waterfront with a 600 ft. skyscraper. 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.
The 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.
Last week, Acting Mayor Mayor Kim Janey announced the withdrawal of the Downtown Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan, which included development standards for Chiafaro’s
Harbor Garage project as well as The Hook Wharf site, where the temporary home of the James Hook Lobster Company would be replaced with a structure up to 305 feet tall, with 30 percent of the lot coverage as open space.
Janey said the decision to reevaluate Boston’s waterfront development comes in the wake of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that indicates coastal cities are especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change, and as a means to continue addressing racism as a public health crisis. Janey said she is committed to meeting these crises with urgent climate action to ensure our waterfront is as resilient as possible while enhancing community benefits.
“We have an opportunity and an obligation to meet this moment of the climate change crisis and protect our waterfront for generations to come,” said Janey. “I look forward to working with local advocates and civic leaders to embed our shared values of resilience, equity, and access into the City’s development process Downtown and throughout all of our neighborhoods.”
Janey has also charged her administration with convening stakeholders to determine the future of equitable and resilient development throughout Boston’s waterfront neighborhoods. This group will include environmental justice organizations, residents, and experts in resilient, equitable, and accessible waterfront development. The goal of this process is to develop a new approach to waterfront development in Boston that generates community benefits and protection from extreme weather and pollution.
Prior to CLF’s 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.