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BRA chief holds line on limits to Harbor Garage project

Says no deal better than oversized site near Aquarium

Boston’s top development official Wednesday took a hard line on the Harbor Garage project, saying it would be better to leave the aging building standing than approve a project that would be too big for the site.

“We’ll go on with the garage there for a long time if we determine that [a proposal] is too big and not in the public interest,” Boston Redevelopment Authority director Brian Golden said at a community meeting discussing zoning plans for the downtown waterfront.

Earlier this week, Golden said the city had hit an impasse with developer Don Chiofaro, who is pushing to build a much larger complex on the site than what Boston would allow.


Chiofaro was at the meeting at City Hall but did not speak publicly. He declined to comment afterward.

The stalemate has prompted Golden to negotiate directly with Chiofaro’s financial backers, Prudential Real Estate Investors. Executives from the investment firm, which contributed most of the $153 million for the purchase of the garage in 2007, are expected to meet with Golden and Mayor Martin J. Walsh later this week, according to people with knowledge of the meeting.

The BRA and Chiofaro have been deadlocked since June, when the city proposed expanding zoning for the garage site to permit a development of 900,000 square feet, with buildings as high as 600 feet, making it among the largest projects in the city.

Chiofaro has told city officials that he would need to build an even larger project or receive a tax break to recoup the cost of replacing the garage and its 1,400 parking spaces, building iconic towers, and making a reasonable return for his investors.

Golden reiterated that the city very much wants to see the aging garage replaced with a signature development, but he gave no inclination the BRA would budge from its offer in June.


“The developer immediately signaled to us that number was not workable. We began a conversation with them,” Golden said. “I don’t think any of us thought it would go on as long as it has.”

Vocal opponents, including the neighboring New England Aquarium and many residents of Harbor Towers, say Chiofaro’s proposal is far too big.

Golden made the comments at a meeting of a citizens advisory group that is considering new zoning rules for a stretch of waterfront from Long Wharf to the Moakley Bridge. But the planning effort has largely become a proxy for the debate over Chiofaro’s Harbor Garage project.

The hearing room was packed with Aquarium staff and its supporters. Aquarium chief executive Nigella Hillgarth said her organization could lose as much as $5 million to $10 million a year from its $40 million annual budget because the loss of parking during construction may drive away visitors.

Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.

This story has been updated to correct the characterization of the position of the New England Aquarium and some other opponents of the project.