This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 5/5/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

Decisions loom on water, waterfront
Key official gives Pritzker a nod

By Steve Wilmsen, Globe Staff, 5/5/2000

In a major setback to developer Frank H. McCourt's bid to reshape the South Boston Waterfront, the state's top environmental regulator yesterday said he is prepared to embrace a plan put forward by the Pritzker family once it is modified to accommodate more open space.

The change of heart by Environmental Affairs Secretary Bob Durand is a dramatic shift in the political winds and could severely damage McCourt's plans to implement his own proposal for the waterfront design.

''We are very happy with what we see,'' Durand said of a plan to double the size of a public square in the Pritzker proposal, opening up views to the water. ''This is a very welcome and significant step, and I would say things are headed in the right direction'' for the Pritzker plan, he said.

Durand is a key player in the waterfront development process. He must sign off on any plan before it can proceed. And until yesterday, he was seen as an ally of McCourt and a roadblock for the Pritzkers, whom Mayor Thomas M. Menino has long backed.

Just weeks ago, Durand said he strongly supported McCourt's plan because it incorporated more open space and complied with strict environmental regulations about development along the harbor.

But Menino sent a letter to Nicholas Pritzker, whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, on Wednesday asking the Chicago developer to scale back commercial development in order to increase the size of a park, which would make it easier for commuters coming from a proposed mass transit stop to see the harbor. Menino's letter garnered immediate support, including that of Durand.

While Durand stopped short of saying he would approve the Pritzker plan once it incorporates more open space, he said as long as the Pritzkers satisfy certain criteria, such as providing good views to the water, he would be inclined to proceed with it.

Durand's support of the Pritzker plan, however, does not mean the issue has been decided. The Conservation Law Foundation, which has allied itself with McCourt, said it will sue state officials if they approve the Pritzker plan - even with the addition of open space - because the plan does not meet guidelines set down in environmental laws.

And McCourt, who yesterday presented his plan to the City Council, the first time it has been viewed in an official forum, said he plans to begin the process of getting necessary environmental approval May 15.

But some of the wave of public support that appeared to be building for McCourt in recent weeks weakened yesterday in the wake of the mayor's request for more open space.

''From our point of view, that was a very significant step and it would mean that we are much happier with the Pritzker plan,'' said Vivian Li of the Boston Harbor Association.

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