A day after Gov. Charlie Baker said he would not accept Boston's withdrawal of its downtown waterfront development plan, the two candidates running for mayor signaled varying degrees of support for Acting Mayor Kim Janey's move to change the proposal.
Janey rejected the city's Downtown Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan last month, a plan that took took seven years to draft and would govern development of the 42-acre area. A 44-story tower and a waterfront hotel were included in the plan.
Janey, who failed to qualify for Boston's general November election last week, had pledged to start the planning process from scratch by appointing a blue-ribbon commission to seek public input.
On Tuesday, Councilor Michelle Wu indicated support for a new process to yield a new plan, while Councilor Annissa Essaibi George suggested refining the existing plan with further community input.
"Boston has the right to hold a community planning process for a waterfront that is accessible, resilient, and equitable," Wu said in a statement. "I look forward to working with Mayor Janey and stakeholders across our neighborhoods to shape our shared waterfront so it works for everyone."
Wu had previously submitted testimony to the state in support of a new planning process.
Essaibi George expressed similar but less sweeping sentiments in a written statement, noting that while she has "reservations" about the tower portion of the project that would replace the Harbor Garage structure, "I do not think we need to completely scrap this plan and throw out an entire seven years' worth of work and community engagement."
Changes to the plan, Essaibi George said, need to involve all stakeholders and consider the number of future jobs at stake.
The candidates' comments come after Baker, who was speaking to reporters Monday after his weekly closed-door meeting with legislative leaders, said "procedurally," Boston cannot "just withdraw a plan" without having a new one.
Months before Janey made an effort to sink the city's harbor plan, a judge voided the state's approval of the project. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection had improperly delegated its unique legal authority on matters related to tidelands to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, he determined. The state released new draft regulations on waterfront development after the ruling.
The lawsuit was brought by the Conservation Law Foundation, which criticized Baker saying his seeming unwillingness to allow a restart on the plan makes "little sense."
“It is ironic that the governor won’t accept the City of Boston’s decision, since state officials have always touted the importance of local control in this planning process," CLF Senior Counsel Peter Shelley said Tuesday.
"The Superior Court made it clear: the Baker Administration’s process for handling municipal harbor plans violates state law," he went on. "Governor Baker's decision to ignore Mayor Janey's request further politicizes what is already a deeply flawed process that puts developer interests ahead of public access rights and the environment."
Other environmental groups chimed in Tuesday, supporting Janey's action.
"Governor Baker may be correct that the rules require an alternative plan as opposed to a simple withdrawal; however functionally, it doesn’t work to advance an MHP without municipal support," said Kathy Abbott, the CEO of Boston Harbor Now.
"We share the Governor’s sense of urgency that a new downtown waterfront MHP be developed that reflects the critical climate resilience, inclusivity and accessibility goals of the broader community," said Vikki Spruill, CEO of the New England Aquarium. "The time is now to begin that process. It must be one that includes a vision for the waterfront that is driven by community priorities, not developer profits. ... To let a procedural matter become a barrier to climate justice would be a missed moment to get it right."
Meanwhile, Lou Antonellis of Boston’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 103 said the union is looking forward to the plan’s projects coming into fruition.
“It's been vetted, so we want to see it move forward," he told GBH News. "If people feel that they didn't get their voice heard that need to, we're in favor of that, but at the same time, indefinitely stopping that development," is unfair, he said, pointing to the jobs that would be lost if the plan were scrapped.