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Boston waterfront building rules to get final city test

Developer Don Chiafaro has floated various proposals for a complex on the site of the Boston Harbor parking garage, but has held off while city officials finalize new zoning along the downtown waterfront.
Developer Don Chiafaro has floated various proposals for a complex on the site of the Boston Harbor parking garage, but has held off while city officials finalize new zoning along the downtown waterfront.The Chiofaro Co.

After almost four years and 40 public meetings, Boston officials are at last poised to approve a plan for the city’s downtown waterfront, which could pave the way for developer Don Chiofaro’s long-awaited skyscraper.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency is set to approve new zoning for the Boston waterfront running from Long Wharf to the Moakley Bridge. The effort began in 2013, wound through two mayoral administrations and a building boom and seemingly-endless negotiations between City Hall, Chiofaro and various neighbors concerned over the size of the tower he wants to build on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage.

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Though he has floated various ideas for a large complex on the garage site, Chiofaro has so far not formally submitted a development proposal, deferring instead to the zoning effort.

Last week the BPDA released a draft of the plan, which would allow Chiofaro to build a tower 600 feet high, but also requires more open space at the street level — a nod to concerns from the New England Aquarium and some neighbors that Chiofaro’s tower could wall off the waterfront. The final vote by the agency’s board was originally scheduled for Thursday afternooon, but was postponed because of the expected storm; it will be re-scheduled soon, a BPDA spokeswoman said.

Whenever it happens, approval is likely. “No” votes by the BPDA board are extremely rare, though items are sometimes pulled from the agenda at the last minute.

Next the plan needs to be reviewed by state environmental regulators. Critics of the plan — including residents of the Harbor Towers condominiums and, potentially, the Aquarium, —could still press their case at that level, which could lead to more changes.

A spokesman for the Aquarium, which as emerged as a key opponent of Chiofaro’s tower, had no immediate comment Wednesday. A Chiofaro spokeswoman declined comment as well.


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