Lawsuits Seek To Block Boston Harbor Development Projects
Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan puts developer interests ahead of public, suits claim
A New England environmental nonprofit and a dozen condominium complex residents have filed separate lawsuits alleging the Commonwealth of Massachusetts illegally approved a city zoning plan allowing for construction of a 600-ft tower and other structures on the Boston Harbor.
The Conservation Law Foundation suit challenges Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton's approval of the city's Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan—which covers about 42 acres of flowed and filled tidelands on the waterfront in downtown Boston—and the municipal harbor planning process. It claims the state ignored laws and processes put in place to ensure public rights on the waterfront.
"This plan unlawfully puts the interests of developers ahead of the public's rights on the waterfront," stated foundation president Bradley Campbell in a press release. "The state must stop disregarding the public's rights when it comes to waterfront development."
On April 30, 2018, Secretary Beaton approved Boston's municipal harbor plan, which reflects Massachusetts' commitment to balancing economic development and ensuring public access to open space, multimodal transportation and climate resilience. The plan includes $14.5 million in mitigation for significant enhancements of the area and its shoreline for water-dependent uses, public access and other public benefits. Both suits filed on July 11 request that Beaton's decision be overturned.
The Harbor Towers condominium complex suit seeks a declaratory judgment barring construction on the former tidelands at the Harbor Garage site "absent a supplemental act of the Legislature, which in 1964 authorized conveyance of the property for the purposes of a much less intensive development."
It also requests a right to permanent parking at the Harbor Garage site where developer Don Chiofaro's long-planned 600-ft-tall tower is planned for construction. The tower is supported by both Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) and Gov. Charlie Baker (R).
The Conservation Law Foundation—which names Beaton and Martin Suuberg, commissioner for the state Dept. of Environmental Protection, as defendants in its suit—wrote in a statement that Beaton's April 30 decision "acknowledged that the City of Boston failed to take the considerations of stakeholders and the public into account during the Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Planning process, which should have triggered a denial of the plan."
"The plan also arbitrarily abandons principles … in place since 1990, particularly standards that ensure waterfront buildings step down in height as they approach the water's edge, and that developers provide ample waterfront space and facilities for public use and enjoyment adjacent to new developments," it adds.
Under the municipal harbor plan, the secretary's "substitute regulatory development provisions" allow developer Don Chiofaro's tower to be built on the Harbor Garage site and a 305-ft tower to be built nearby on the Hook Wharf site, the suit states. The plan ignores the maximum allowable height of 55 ft to 155 ft on the Harbor Garage site and 55 feet on the Hook Wharf site, the suit notes.
The foundation's suit states that the secretary acknowledged the existence of these height guidelines in his decision but failed to provide any discussion in his approval of why he ignored them.
Portions of the municipal harbor plan are current or former state tidelands, including roughly one-third of the Hook Wharf site, the suit states. The remainder are private tidelands.
A spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said the office does not comment on ongoing litigation.