Developer cuts height of planned skyscrapers

‘The objective is not to have the tallest building in the city,’ Don Chiofaro says. ‘The objective is to have a project that works.’ ‘The objective is not to have the tallest building in the city,’ Don Chiofaro says. ‘The objective is to have a project that works.’
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / October 15, 2009

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Bowing to stiff community opposition, Boston developer Donald J. Chiofaro is proposing to lower the overall height of his proposed office and residential complex near the New England Aquarium, by lopping off a large decorative rectangular bracket and reducing the tallest building by at least 65 feet.

The bracket, or terra-cotta skyframe, would have topped off the development at 780 feet. The revised plan would cut the height of the buildings to no more than 625 feet, a reduction of 20 percent.

Chiofaro also said he wants to add a rooftop public observatory and extend a planned walkway to directly link the aquarium on one side of the development with the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway on the other.

“This is the one site in the city that can deliver what’s needed to bring more activity to the Greenway,’’ Chiofaro said of the property, which is now occupied by the Harbor Garage, a hulking concrete structure that would be demolished as part of his $1 billion redevelopment plan.

Chiofaro wants to build two towers - one for offices and the other for a hotel and condominiums - on a 57,000-square-foot site along Atlantic Avenue. The project would include ground-floor shopping with restaurants, stores, and a food market, as well as 1,400 parking spaces underground.

Initially, Chiofaro, who built International Place in the 1980s, had proposed the residential building at 690 feet and the office one at 580 feet, with the two connected by the skyframe. But neighbors were opposed, and the Massachusetts Port Authority raised concerns that the development would interfere with air traffic to and from Logan International Airport.

Chiofaro said Massport officials have asked that the development be no higher than 625 feet, a limitation he said he could work with.

“The objective is not to have the tallest building in the city,’’ Chiofaro said. “The objective is to have a project that works, and all the feedback we’ve gotten is that a mixed-use project would work best in this location.’’

Chiofaro must clear several hurdles before he can begin construction. The biggest obstacle is the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which would have to approve a change to waterfront zoning that would allow Chiofaro to build above the current limit of 155 feet.

BRA officials are just beginning to reexamine zoning regulations for the area and might not make changes for several months. The authority is also awaiting recommendations from consultants for optimal building heights along the Greenway.

“We will not be in position to consider any submission from Don until we know what makes sense for the Greenway,’’ BRA director John Palmieri said yesterday. He said the review of allowable heights will be completed within the next few months, and that it is difficult to comment further on Chiofaro’s plan until it’s completed.

“It’s good to know he’s listening to his neighbors,’’ Palmieri added. “But we’ll have to take a look at what our consultants and staff are recommending.’’

Chiofaro has faced loud opposition from residents of the nearby Harbor Towers condominiums, who have repeatedly objected to the scale of the project. In a statement, Harbor Towers trustees offered little support for the revised plan.

Chiofaro said he hopes his revisions will spur more discussion about the best use for the property.

“This is the absolute right time to be talking about a project like this,’’ he said. “It’s big, it’s bold, and it creates all kinds of opportunities to do things that are good for the city.’’

Casey Ross can be reached at