This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 8/11/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


Richard Kindleberger, Globe Staff

In signing into law a transportation bond bill, Governor Paul Cellucci yesterday gave a major boost to a $600 million commercial complex planned over South Station. The $3.2 billion bond authorization contained a provision exempting the proposed 46-story high-rise from the state law regulating waterfront development. The project, being developed by the Hines company of Houston, will still be subject to the usual city and state environmental reviews.

David Perry, a Hines vice president, said the exemption was critical to advancing the project, which is already more than a year behind its original timetable. "It just enables us to move forward through the balance of the permitting process," he said. The city also had urged Cellucci to approve the exemption. But environmental advocates argued that excusing the project from the waterfront review would set a damaging precedent.

"I think it's very disappointing that a large developer in this city has been able to go around the Chapter 91 regulations," said Vivien Li of the Boston Harbor Association. "Frankly it opens up the door for other developers to do that."

Chapter 91 limits the size of developments on the water's edge and requires the developer to provide access to the waterfront and other public benefits.

South Station, 500 feet from the Fort Point Channel, would ordinarily be exempt because Dorchester Avenue separates it from the water. But the street, because it runs past the US Postal Service's mail-sorting facility, next to South Station, is closed to the public. That makes South Station subject to Chapter 91.

Although the potential exists for bypassing the law's height restrictions and other requirements, developers regard the law as onerous and difficult. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a major booster of the Hines project, agreed it presented an unnecessary complication for a project that already faces the challenge of building over railroad tracks and alongside the Big Dig. Mark Maloney, the Boston Redevelopment Authority's director, wrote Cellucci Wednesday urging him to approve the waiver, saying it was needed "so that this great project can finally be accomplished."

When the proposed development was unveiled in June 1998, Hines predicted an early 2000 start to construction. Perry said yesterday that with Chapter 91 out of the way and his team going "full speed ahead on the permitting process," he's now shooting to break ground in the second half of next year. Four stories have been cut from the 50 that were originally planned. But the complex would still be massive, with 1.6 million square feet of office space in the tower and a smaller building, as well as a 500-room hotel.

Hines and its supporters contend that South Station, with its commuter trains and rapid transit, is the perfect spot for badly needed office space. But critics have expressed various concerns, including the project's size and the possibility that construction would interfere with plans for high-speed rail to New York. Doug Pizzi, a spokesman for Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Durand, said Durand did not oppose the waiver, believing it was basically a technicality that put the project under the law.

"People don't go down to South Station to see Boston Harbor," Pizzi said. "We wanted to take a common-sense approach to this. This is a good project for down there.

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 8/11/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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