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Build 'em high

It would be ever so convenient if it was, in fact, all about Nicholas Romano and his naked girls.

 

Romano, a father of four, grandfather of 11, and North End florist by day, is by night co-owner of the Glass Slipper, one of only two strip joints still hanging on in Boston's Combat Zone. On this snowy night, when the girls far outnumber the patrons, Romano, 66, is explaining to me why the city is wrong to attempt to seize his club by eminent domain and replace it with a 300-foot tower that will attract the kinds of people to the neighborhood who can pay rents as high as $3,000 a month. I listen and sip, very slowly, my tiny $9 Diet Coke (ice and straw no extra charge).

"The mayor is trying to get rid of the adult entertainment area," says Romano, who has operated the Glass Slipper for almost two decades. Then he adds: "Look around. This place is a church. You'll find more going on in the movies." Maybe not if 18-year-old Candy, dressed in only her 5-inch heels, is doing what I think she is doing with that brass pole on stage.

The latest fight over the latest too-big development downtown is, in fact, about a lot more than getting rid of the Combat Zone. An unusual collection of disparate interests -- from Chinatown residents worried about gentrification to those who want to save the old Gaiety Theatre to those who want to preserve Boston's human scale -- have banded together to object to Kensington Place, another of the towers remaking Washington Street. And this month they found some unexpected support: The Boston Zoning Commission, a reliable rubber stamp for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, actually started asking some questions.

The issue was the BRA's push to have the Kensington site named a planned development area, a developer-friendly designation that would exempt the project from the 15-story zoning cap. The problem: Such so-called PDAs require an acre of land, and Kensington controls just about a half-acre. So the BRA and the developer included the streets around the project and property owned by an abutter.

Here, according to an account of the Dec. 3 meeting by Adam Smith, a reporter for the Sampan, a Chinatown newspaper, is what the usually docile zoning commissioners had to say about the BRA gymnastics:

"It sounds like we are being used," said commissioner Ralph Cooper.

"It's like a `planned development building' not a planned development area," said commissioner Pat Tierney.

"Why are we being asked to stretch the rules?" asked vice chairman Robert Fondren.

The BRA pulled the issue off the table rather than risk losing a critical vote. Kensington Place is expected to be back before the zoning commission this morning, and we will see just how much backbone the commission has. You can bet the mayor, or his minions, have been busy reeducating the commissioners.

The BRA is out of control, Kensington Place providing only the most recent example. It is an organization willing to game the system to get what the mayor wants. It holds endless community meetings but never wavers from its appointed mission. Its "master plans" are good until the next developer walks in the door. The money, the power, are always on the side of building bigger, not smaller. The opposition, with neither money nor power, can't fight City Hall. What we need is a counterweight to the BRA and what it has come to represent. Today's meeting is a good place to start.. . .

Neighborhood news. Before turnpike boss Matt Amorello went to Citizens Bank for $250,000 to fund his Pops party, he met with FleetBank CEO Chad Gifford. And Fleet being a bigger fish than Citizens, Amorello asked for $500,000, according to those familiar with that meeting. Gifford's wise reply: no sale.

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at 617-929-2902 or at bailey@globe.com.

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