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Globe Editorial

A pox on both houses

May 1, 2010

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IT’S NOW clear that Don Chiofaro considers himself the Rosa Parks of Boston developers: He’s not going to stand for Mayor Menino’s unequal system of approving projects. “The city is letting the narrow interests of a small group, and personal vendettas, guide their decisions,’’ he fumed, at a strident press conference at which he all but declared war on City Hall.

His critique of Menino has some merit, but Chiofaro’s evident self-interest gets in the way. His ultimate goal is not to force Menino to adopt a one-size-fits-all set of development rules. It’s to get a special deal for his own project.

After all, Chiofaro bought the Boston Harbor Garage for $153 million in 2007, while it carried an official height restriction of 150 feet. He hoped to build a skyscraper more than four times that height, and believed he had received some encouragement from Menino’s Boston Redevelopment Authority. But the BRA is, indeed, a labyrinth, and Chiofaro’s request for a large variance got clogged up in the system — perhaps, Chiofaro suspects, because of Menino’s personal objection.

However mysterious its processes, the BRA ultimately produced a plan for development surrounding the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway that is reasonable and well thought-out. It limits Chiofaro’s project to 200 feet. That may be too tight, and the city would do well to negotiate a compromise, because Chiofaro’s garage, as currently maintained, is an eyesore.

In addition, Menino should promote confidence in City Hall by offering a full explanation of the BRA’s procedures. City planning can indeed be complicated, and any plan that applies a clear, consistent vision can be portrayed as unfairly restrictive, especially when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Still, Bostonians need to know that the process is open and fair.

But any consideration of Boston’s development woes should disentangle concerns about the BRA’s procedures from the merits of Chiofaro’s proposal. It’s possible for Chiofaro to be right about the BRA and wrong about his own project. Both could be lacking.

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