A towering battle
A month ago, the Conservation Law Foundation signaled its concern over state approval of a waterfront zoning plan that would allow a 600-foot tower on the edge of Boston Harbor next to the New England Aquarium.
A letter sent to Matthew Beaton, the state’s environmental affairs secretary, “does not explicitly threaten a lawsuit,” if the zoning plan is not modified, “but it could be a precursor to legal action,” the Boston Globe reported at the time. Like night comes before day, the story might as well have added.
Yesterday, CLF said it has filed notice that it will sue to challenge the zoning plan in court. At issue is the decision by city and state officials to grant a waiver from a state law protecting waterfront areas that limits building heights to 155 feet. Developer Don Chiofaro wants to erect a 600-foot tower on the site of the Boston Harbor Garage, a project that he has been angling to build for eons.
“The consensus view had long been that development on the waterfront should respect the traditional lines of Boston Harbor architecture, with warehouses and lower lines that step back to taller buildings in the Financial District,” Peter Shelley, senior counsel at CLF, told the Globe. “What [Matthew Beaton] did in the downtown Municipal Harbor Plan was essentially throw that out completely.”
A City Hall meeting last fall with the group’s president, Bradley Campbell, over the group’s objections to a proposed project on Seaport Boulevard got so heated that Mayor Marty Walsh reportedly walked out of the confab. That project had lots of buy-in from community leaders.
Walsh fired off a letter to the CLF board charging that he and his staff were “met by Mr. Campbell with disrespectful, contemptuous, and combative language, and a suggestion that my staff and I were not capable of negotiating appropriate outcomes for the people of Boston and that it was his job to do it.”
CLF settled a suit it filed over that project, with the developer agreeing to pay $13.1 million over 35 years to fund parks and other projects. The challenge to Chiafaro’s tower project says it doesn’t allow for enough open space and builds too high along the waterfront edge, while $14.4 million in community benefits go mostly to renovate a wharf in front of the Aquarium.
For all the talk of CLF as an obstructionist naysayer, it’s hard to argue with its claim that waterfront zoning laws are only useful if they aren’t regularly cast aside.
“With each decision by the state the rules are becoming disregarded more and more,” Campbell told the Globe. “It’s probably time to sort out whether the rules have any force, or if they’re just quaint artifacts of the way things used to be.”
In one curious twist, despite the threat of an impending suit, Chiofaro tells the Globe he’s scheduled to meet next week with Campbell.
“We haven’t seen it. We don’t know much about it. But it’s not unexpected,” Chiofaro said of the suit. “It doesn’t leave us much room for a conversation, but we’re going to have one.”
Beacon Hill leaders put together a grand bargain on three ballot questions quickly, phasing in a $15 minimum wage over five years, establishing paid medical and family leave, creating an annual sales tax holiday, and doing away with time-and-a-half pay for employees who work Sundays. The bargain would eliminate three ballot question, including one lower the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent. Union leaders, concerned about the reduction in Sunday pay included in the deal, said members will vote on the bargain next week. But the House passed the measure Wednesday and the Senate followed suit. (Eagle-Tribune) If enacted, the changes would make Massachusetts the third state — along with New York and California — to adopt a $15 minimum wage and mandated paid family leave. (Boston Globe)
An Eagle-Tribune editorial says the House’s health care bill will provide badly needed relief to some community hospitals, but it fails to address the underlying problem of rate disparity. A Lowell Sun editorial endorsed the House approach.
The House and Senate both want to bolster civics instruction in schools, but they differ on specifics, with the Senate version of a bill mandating completion of two civics projects as a graduation requirement for students. (Boston Globe)
Jim Stergios said the renaming of Yawkey Way sanitizes Boston’s history. He argues the city should grapple with the city’s racial history, not try to erase it as if it never happened. (CommonWealth)
The fire chief in Shutesbury is threatening to walk off the job if he doesn’t get a $10,000 pay hike, and every member of the on-call department is threatening to leave with him. (MassLive)
As Provincetown prepares to implement the state’s first taxpayer-funded child care programs for infants to pre-K, questions have arisen over whether the intent of the voter-approved mandate was to make them universal or cap the number of enrollments based on funding. (Cape Cod Times)
After days of falsely insisting his hands were tied to stop separating parents and children at the country’s southern border without congressional action, President Trump ordered a halt to the practice in the face of blistering criticism that extended to evangelical leaders, members of his party, and members of his own family. (Boston Globe) By the Washington Post’s count, the Trump administration changed its story on the policy at least 14 times before the president gave in. Massachusetts Democrats try to tie Gov. Charlie Baker to Trump’s border policies, citing his previous commitment to send National Guard units to the border before reversing himself last week. (Boston Herald) Joe Battenfeld says the border crisis could do long-term damage to Trump. (Boston Herald) Carol Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says Beacon Hill has a role to play on immigration as well. (CommonWealth)
Trump is on the verge of announcing a major government reorganization, including the possible merger of the Education and Labor departments as well as lumping many social safety net programs into a megadepartment and labeling it “welfare,” a rebranding pushed by hard-line conservatives. (New York Times)
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and her New Yolk counterpart, Barbara Underwood, say they plan to sue the Trump administration over its expansion of association health plans. (MassLive)
Three New England Patriots players asked the questions at a debate among the candidates for Suffolk County district attorney, and that star power attracted about 200 people to the event. (CommonWealth)
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg says he generally shuns sharply partisan politics, but will support Democratic efforts to retake the House this fall. “Republicans in Congress have had almost two years to prove they could govern responsibly. They failed,” he wrote in an Globe op-ed that first appeared in Bloomberg Opinion. The billionaire businessman has plenty of money to put where his mouth is, vowing to spend $80 million on the effort, according to advisers. (New York Times)
Longtime GOP strategist Steve Schmidt has renounced his affiliation with the Republican party, citing the influence of President Trump, and is urging voters to cast their ballots for Democrats in November even though he says he is registering as an independent. (Washington Post)
George Will wonders if former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is the guy to restore conservatism while Big Red pursues the 2020 Libertarian Party presidential nomination. (National Review)
A proposed $7.6 million cut in the Quincy College budget would save teaching jobs in the nursing program even though the program has been shut down by the state. Mayor Tom Koch, who is running the city-owned school temporarily after the resignation of its president, said the plan is to resurrect the program by the fall semester of 2019. (Patriot Ledger)
The state has issued a $25 million tax-free bond for Stonehill College to construct a new business school to be named after the CEO of W.B. Mason, an alumnus of the Easton college. (The Enterprise)
Boston medical superstar Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and bestselling author, will run a new Boston-based company being formed by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett, together with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, that is aimed at remaking how health care is delivered. (Boston Globe)
The Revere Licensing Commission is preparing to hike the per-space fee parking lot owners pay from $25 to $365 a year, but many of the owners say they will pull the plug on their businesses if that happens. (Daily Item)
Boston gives nuTonomy approval to start testing its autonomous vehicles across the city rather than just in the Seaport District. (MassLive)
The MBTA’s call for a pedestrian connection between the Red and Blue Lines stirred debate, with some saying the move was unfathomable while T officials said it would provide a link must faster and at less cost than building an actual train connection. (CommonWealth)
Apps that are supposed to tell you when an MBTA bus will arrive at your stop don’t always deliver, but the T says it’s working on the problems. (Boston Globe)
New signs are going up at commuter rail train crossings and stations urging people to call the Samaritans for help if they are contemplating suicide. (Salem News)
State environmental officials are seeking a supplemental report on Vineyard Wind’s planned turbine farm off Martha’s Vineyard, saying the information is essential for oversight of the federally approved project’s impact. (Cape Cod Times)
Industry officials say the sale of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts could blossom into a $1.8 billion business when it reaches maturity. (State House News)
Canada has legalized recreational marijuana sales and use nationwide starting in October. (U.S. News & World Report)
Attorney General Maura Healey has called for an investigation of the Bristol County House of Correction citing reports of civil rights abuses and high suicide rates. A spokesman for Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson called the effort a “political witch hunt.” (Herald News)A Globe editorial backs a bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker that would revamp procedures for keeping sex offenders civilly confined after criminal sentences have been served.
State Police Colonel Kerry Gilpin says reforms to the troubled force are going “smoothly.” (Boston Herald)