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Ambitious plans may reshape Boston’s waterfront skyline

But Chiofaro, City Hall are still at odds

First proposal (left): 780 feet. New design: 615 feet at highest point. First proposal (left): 780 feet. New design: 615 feet at highest point. (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates)
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / September 21, 2010

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Developer Donald J. Chiofaro yesterday unveiled the latest revision of his redevelopment of the Harbor Garage on the Boston waterfront, proposing a pair of sharply angled towers whose tallest point is still 400 feet above the city’s new height limit for the property.

The larger tower would reach 615 feet, while the smaller one would top out at 470 feet. Last month, the city approved new zoning guidelines that would cap the height of new structures on the property at 200 feet.

The new proposal did little to break the standoff between Chiofaro and City Hall over the size of his proposed development.

Yesterday, Chiofaro reiterated that the 200-foot height limit — meant to prevent new buildings from overshadowing the adjacent Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway — would not yield enough income-generating space to justify the cost of construction. The Menino administration intends to codify the height limit in the city’s zoning code.

Still, Chiofaro said he hopes his new design, which shrinks his original 780-foot complex by 20 percent, will serve as a starting point for a “constructive dialogue’’ with the city.

“This is the most important site on the Greenway,’’ Chiofaro said at his downtown offices yesterday. “It’s a place where the city and the financial district can make a statement not only about themselves, but about the future of the city. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.’’

The property sits next to the New England Aquarium between the Greenway and Boston Harbor. Chiofaro wants to build offices, residences, and a hotel in the towers, which would be adjacent to a sweeping waterfront square with stores and restaurants.

But officials at the Boston Redevelopment Authority yesterday showed little interest in compromising with Chiofaro, issuing a terse statement directing him and his partner, the real estate arm of Prudential Financial Inc., to follow the next step in the city’s process.

“The BRA will conduct the appropriate review if, and when, Prudential Real Estate files a notice of project change for the Harbor Garage,’’ BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree said. “We will not use scarce resources to respond to the latest PR scheme for this site.’’

The city’s statement did not even mention Chiofaro by name, referring only to Prudential, the property’s majority owner. The city recently began using that tactic as relations soured with Chiofaro. The two sides have been at odds over the height of the proposed complex as well as the process for reviewing it.

Chiofaro has angrily accused Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration of concocting new Greenway zoning guidelines to deliberately block his project. The mayor’s aides have countered that Chiofaro is trying to maximize profits and has refused to follow the established process required of all developers.

Both sides agree the site is at a critical intersection that must be redeveloped carefully to enhance connections between the Greenway and waterfront. The hulking concrete garage is a barrier between those two resources, and from some angles also obscures the aquarium.

Where Chiofaro wants bold and iconic, the city and neighbors want appropriate scale. And so the argument, first started in 2007 when the Chiofaro-Prudential team purchased the property, continues.

There have been moments over the years where compromise seemed possible, but those have repeatedly slipped away, with each side blaming the other. Yesterday, the trustees of Harbor Towers, the condominium complex next to the project, issued a statement saying Chiofaro and Prudential have yet to meet with them about the new design.

“It appears they went through a hollow effort to try to drum up support for a project that doesn’t come close to meeting city and state requirements, reconfiguring neighbors’ properties and ignoring their concerns in the process,’’ the statement said.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.