This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 11/9/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Durand rebuffs mayor on waterfront plans
Sticks by demand for scaling back

By Steven Wilmsen, Globe Staff, 11/9/2000

Drawing his own line in the sand over the future of Boston's waterfront, the state's top environmental regulator said yesterday he would rather see development plans scuttled than approved in their current form.

Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand also rejected a compromise proposal by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and said he won't approve the city's waterfront master plan unless the $1.2 billion complex slated for Fan Pier is radically scaled back - most likely by eliminating a 23-story building.

''I have a decision to make based on the public trust,'' Durand said. ''If they can't see a way to develop that property in the best interests of the people, then maybe they aren't the best ones to do that project.''

Saying he is supported by Governor Paul Cellucci, Durand dramatically upped the stakes in his standoff with the mayor and Chicago hotel magnate Nicholas Pritzker, who earlier in the week refused to make further cuts in his controversial plan for a cityscape of seven office, hotel, and condo towers on the waterfront property.

His remarks raise for the first time the possibility that the mayor's two-year-old plan could falter if Durand and Pritzker come to an impasse. Durand said he won't back down, even in the face of Pritzker's threats to pull out of the project.

''There are other people in this state and in this nation who would take up the mantle of developing that property,'' he said. ''We're not bluffing about this. We're very concerned about open space, and we're standing firm.''

Durand, whose approval is the last governmental hurdle for the city's Municipal Harbor Plan, is under intense pressure from environmental groups to include more open space and shrink the size of buildings planned near the water. The influential Conservation Law Foundation has threatened to tie up the plan in court if Durand approves the city's plan as it is. Emboldened by a groundswell of opposition to Pritzker's plan, Durand took an unexpectedly strong stand on the project last week in a draft of his final decision.

He said he wanted the developer to eliminate a 23-story office and condo tower from the project - a move that would widen an adjacent park, cut down on shadows on the nearby cove, and open up views to the water.

Pritzker earlier this week said he could agree to Menino's counteroffer to scale the building back - making it shorter by 100 feet and thinner by some 50 feet. But he has refused to consider eliminating the building altogether.

The mayor's plan doesn't go nearly far enough in getting rid of shadows and other impacts from the development's buildings, Durand said yesterday.

''The bottom line is that it just doesn't get us where we need to go,'' he said. ''The quickest, most expeditious way for them to get approval is to take a look at that building and decide they can do without it.''

Neither the mayor nor city planning officials, who have spent the past several days briefing Durand's staff on details of Menino's counter offer, would comment yesterday.

''We have not been contacted by the secretary's office,'' said DeWayne Lehman, a Menino spokesman. ''As far as we're concerned, we're still working with him on this.''

Pritzker officials also declined to comment. But Durand's move was clearly a blow to the developer, who had begun to be optimistic that the environmental secretary would bend to a compromise.

Project critics, meanwhile, heaped praise on Durand.

''It's great news,'' said Staphanie Pollack, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. ''If we are going to reach any kind of consensus, it has to be based on what environmental law requires. We agree with the secretary that taking that building [out] takes us much closer to the kind of waterfront we need.''

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 11/9/2000.

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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