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Environmental group objects to zoning that allows waterfront towers

An environmental group wants the state environmental secretary, Matt Beaton, to reconsider new zoning he recently approved for Boston's downtown waterfront, raising the prospect of a lawsuit that could further delay long-planned towers along Boston Harbor.

The nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation said Beaton's decision to allow a 600-foot-tall tower on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage and a 305-foot-high tower on the site of Hook Lobster violates state law, and sets a bad precedent by trading public access to the waterfront without gaining much in return.

Specifically, CLF said the plans don't mandate enough open space and allow too much height so close to the water, while requiring just $14.4 million in community benefits — mostly in funding from the project's developers to help renovate Central Wharf in front of the New England Aquarium.

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The "private benefits your decision confers on a few private developers dwarf any public benefits being provided," wrote Heather Miller and Peter Shelley, attorneys for the group. "Critically and fatally to your decision, nowhere do you even articulate exactly how this project primarily serves a public purpose."

Requests to reconsider were also lodged by residents of the Harbor Towers and the InterContinental condominium developments, both of which are located in the area covered by the plan. Beaton has until June 12 to reconsider.

A spokesman had no comment on the requests Tuesday.

The zoning plan, which covers 42 acres from Long Wharf to the Moakley Bridge, was negotiated over years of both public and private meetings held by the Menino and Walsh administrations with Harbor Garage developer Donald Chiofaro, the New England Aquarium, and an array of neighborhood groups.

In February, the Boston Planning & Development Agency finally approved the plan and sent it to Beaton for his blessing, which came in April.

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The CLF letter does not explicitly threaten a lawsuit if Beaton doesn't modify the plan, but it could be a precursor to legal action. President Bradley Campbell did not return a message asking about litigation on Tuesday. CLF sued the state on similar grounds over zoning for a luxury condominium tower at 150 Seaport, tying the project up in court for more than a year before reaching a $13.1 million settlement with its developer in January.

That episode caused consternation at City Hall, with Mayor Martin J. Walsh at one point walking out of a meeting with CLF in frustration. But CLF — which has grown more active on waterfront issues in recent years — has said it's working to ensure that the public benefits from a cleaned-up waterfront that is at the center of a private development boom.


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