Critics of a 600-foot-tall skyscraper planned for the edge of Boston Harbor laid out their legal claims in a pair of lawsuits filed Wednesday that urge a judge to stop a project that has the support of both the Walsh and Baker administrations.
The Conservation Law Foundation and a dozen residents of the Harbor Towers condominium complex separately sued state Environmental Secretary Matt Beaton, saying he broke a state law protecting the waterfront earlier this year when he approved a city zoning plan that would allow developer Don Chiofaro to build his long-planned tower on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage.
“This plan illegally puts the interests of developers ahead of the public’s rights on the waterfront,” said the CLF’s president, Bradley Campbell. “The state must stop disregarding the public’s rights when it comes to waterfront development.”
Both groups last month signaled their intent to sue and have said the project could set a precedent for more tall towers along Boston’s historic waterfront. Their filings on Wednesday laid out specific claims, with the CLF saying that Chiofaro’s tower and a proposed 305-foot building nearby on the site of James Hook & Co., a lobster seller, would produce little in public benefits.
Harbor Towers residents said Chiofaro’s “grandiose” project breaks agreements governing parking and land use made when the state handed the site over to the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 1964. Both ask a judge to overturn Beaton’s decision.
Even if Beaton’s approval stands up, the court actions could prove yet another speed bump for a massive project that has been debated for nearly a decade. The CLF sued a condo tower at 150 Seaport Blvd. on similar grounds, and the litigation held it up for months until the environmental group negotiated a settlement with the developer, Cronin Holdings, which agreed to pay $13.1 million for parks and other public space.
A spokesman for Beaton declined to comment. In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Chiofaro said that he had seen only the Harbor Towers lawsuit, which he described as “a negotiating tactic, pure and simple,” referring to the ongoing talks about parking for Harbor Towers residents in the garage of his planned tower.
“This filing does not come as a surprise,” Chiofaro said. “The [condo] trustees have been very candid about the fact that, if we did not meet their demands, they would be filing suit.”
After winning zoning approvals from Boston City Hall and the administration pf Governor Charlie Baker earlier this year, Chiofaro said that he plans to file designs later this summer for a tower that would put 900,000 square feet of condos, office space, and hotel rooms on the garage site.
He aims to seek approval from the Boston Planning & Development Agency for the tower as the lawsuits work their way through court, he said.
He’s also still negotiating with the New England Aquarium over plans for a plaza — what the aquarium is calling a “Blueway” — at the foot of the tower, much of it on land owned by the aquarium or other neighbors.