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Seaport condo tower wins key OK from state

A rendering of the 22-story residential building proposed for 150 Seaport Blvd.
A rendering of the 22-story residential building proposed for 150 Seaport Blvd.(Elkus Manfredi Architects)

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State environmental regulators Wednesday gave the green light to a controversial building proposed along the Boston Waterfront on Seaport Boulevard.

Environmental Secretary Matthew Beaton approved developer Jon Cronin’s proposal for a 22-story luxury condominium tower on the tiny site of two waterfront bars he owns in the booming business district.

Several approvals remain, and opponents say they’ll keep fighting to stop or change the project, which they say doesn’t comply with state laws regulating the size of buildings on the waterfront and public access to the water.

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But the ruling is a major step forward for the $260 million development that would be among the ritziest in the city and could provide an architectural landmark on the Seaport.

In a brief statement late Wednesday, Cronin — a prominent South Boston restaurateur who has long owned the Whiskey Priest and Atlantic Beer Garden bars located on the site — hailed the ruling and said he’s looking forward to getting the condo project underway. He hopes to start construction next year.

“We appreciate Secretary Beaton’s positive decision and look forward to completing the remaining steps in the process so that we can create both an iconic building and significant new waterfront access in the Seaport,” his company said in a statement.

Still, attorneys at the Conservation Law Foundation, who have emerged as the project’s fiercest opponents and have threatened to sue to stop it, did not back down from their criticism that it will wall off access to the waterfront and provide few public amenities.

“The department has put lipstick on a pig,” said CLF president Bradley Campbell. “This project still deprives the public of most of its entitlement to public space and it still establishes a terrible precedent for development along the waterfront.”

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In his 27-page ruling, Beaton tried to balance the environmental concerns on the site with the surrounding development in the Seaport District.

At 250 feet, Cronin’s glass tower is tall for its location right on the water, Beaton said. But, he added, it’s also around the same height as the neighboring new buildings on Pier Four and the Fan Pier.

As for walling off the waterfront, Beaton noted that Cronin’s proposal for a 10-foot-wide Harborwalk around his property would be a significant addition to public access compared to what’s there now.

And Cronin’s offer to provide public space in the lobby and to fund a new water taxi terminal also helped win Beaton’s approval.

150 Seaport, Beaton wrote, “will provide significant benefits and amenities that will serve to enhance the public realm, the public’s waterfront experience and accommodate a range of water-dependent activities.”

A spokeswoman for the Boston Planning & Development Agency, which has also approved the 150 Seaport plan, said the agency is still reviewing the ruling. The decision is the second of three expected from the Baker administration on closely watched waterfront developments in Boston.

In September, environmental officials issued a preliminary opinion that, should it become law, would effectively torpedo plans for a luxury hotel over the water off Lewis Wharf. Meanwhile they have been talking with city officials over zoning changes that would influence several high-profile waterfront projects, most prominently developer Don Chiofaro’s proposed skyscraper on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage. Whatever new zoning the city settles on for that section of the waterfront will ultimately have to cross Beaton’s desk, too.

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