BOSTON-The development of the Fan Pier got the go ahead from the state’s environmental office but because the developer asked for a master permit, which is given in phases, rather than a standard permit, the development process promises to be a long affair.

The 1.3 million sf Fan Pier project, one of the largest in the city and the largest development on the South Boston waterfront is being developed by Chicago-based hotel magnate Nicholas Pritzker, who has butted heads with state environmental officials countless times over the past few years in his quest to get this project off the ground. But this approval of the master permit, called a consolidated written determination at this point, is “definitely a major step,” according to Edmund Coletta, spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. “It provides a framework for the implementation of the South Boston municipal harbor plan.”

The developer’s decision to go for a master permit indicates that the project’s nine buildings will be developed in phases. As Coletta notes, the master permit regulates the whole project and assures that there are public benefits as each phase of the project moves forward. “Individual licenses will be issued upon the request of the applicant as each phase goes forward,” he says.

But the burning question is, why didn’t Pritzker request a standard permit rather than the master permit, which, as Coletta points out, will require permitting at every new phase of the project? Whether financing is the issue remains unclear. Calls to the developer’s local representatives were not returned by press time although industry sources tell that financing has not been nailed down yet.

“The idea is they could have gone in and asked for a [standard] permit,” Stephanie Pollack, a lawyer at the Conservation Law Foundation, tells “That would have allowed them to just start building. Instead they will need to get a permit for each building. If [Pritzker] wanted to build something right away, why did they use this procedure?”

Pollack points out that the master permit will also limit the amount of parking the developer can put on the site now but it does provide a permit for the lot. In order to generate some revenue, part of the Fan Pier site has been used as a private parking lot. The master permit requires the developer to build a walkway to the lot and redo the lot so it’s not as close to the water’s edge.

Pollack also notes that there is no indication from the developer as to the order in which the buildings will be built, rendering the plan even more complicated. “It’s difficult to draw conclusions as to whether the plan is appropriate,” she says. “This permit allows the project to be strung out over a long period. The law requires every private project to have public benefits and there are deadlines on the public projects but if they leave it as a parking lot for the next ten years, then no public projects will get built.”

According to Pollack, Pritzker’s local representatives have indicated that they won’t be starting construction this calendar year. “There have been so many delays between filings and now they’ve chosen a master permit. It’s frustrating that Pritzker said he needed a decision right away and now they’re not moving ahead.”

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