By Beth Treffeisen
Millennium Partners, the developers behind the proposed project slated for the deteriorated Winthrop Square Garage, seek to change the current shadow laws in order to build a 775-foot tower in the heart of downtown Boston.
The Impact Advisory Group (IAG), which is made up of 13 community members, met for the first time to discuss the potential impacts of the project with the developers this past Monday, November 28, during a meeting held by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
Members of the IAG raised concerns over the additional shadows that would be cast on the Boston Common, Public Gardens, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall, breaking the current law that would need to be amended in order for this tower to be built.
“All these vetting aspects play a critical role in our decision making, therefore it is vitally important into how tonight’s meeting goes,” said Christopher Tracey the senior project manager from the BPDA. “Again, this is the beginning of the beginning of the process.”
On the Boston Common and the Public Garden current Shadow Law requires that no new shadow should be cast one hour after either sunrise or one hour before sunset. The Preliminary Impact Study shows that no new shadow is cast past 9:25a.m. on the Boston Common. The biggest impact of new shadows will be between the months of March and April.
On the Boston Common, the building will be in compliance with the law 101 days of the year, with a maximum shadow duration being about 1 hour and 30 minutes. On the Public Garden there will be no new shadows past 8:00 a.m. and the building will be in compliance of the law 245 days of the year.
The Commonwealth Avenue Mall, that might get some new shadow, has no laws protecting it.
Legislation to change the law will not be proposed by the developers but through feedback that the BPDA will garner from the public according to Jonathan Greeley the director of development review at the BPDA.
In order to change the 25-year-old laws it will need to get a vote by the City Council and approval on Beacon Hill. The developer hopes that the law will allow this project as a one-off, and will not allow future developments to cast additional shadow.
“The one-off is particularly of concern,” said Vicki C. Smith the Chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). “If the blue print is already there it makes it easier for future developers to follow it.”
Both the NABB and Friends of the Public Garden along with other neighborhood groups have come out strongly against changing the Shadow Law.
Smith said that both parks throughout the day get a lot of use. During the early morning times when the new shadows will be cast, she has noticed that a lot of people commute by walking through them. On a cold March morning she said it makes a big difference walking through a sunny patch.
“As these buildings go up and people don’t have any green space, the more people will use the parks,” said Smith. “That makes it even more important that we protect them.”
The proposed redevelopment of the project site consists of a tower on a podium. The tower will be comprised of residential units. The podium will contain retail, restaurants, and office space that will be punctuated by a major public space linking Federal Street to Winthrop Square, called the Great Hall.
The project is anticipated to include approximately 1,100,000 to 1,500,000 square feet of gross floor area and the allocation of square footage among specific uses will be determined during the design process.
The BPDA Board awarded Tentative Designation status to Millennium Partners on November 1, 2016. The comment period is currently open until January 2, 2017.
The City has earmarked $102 million in proceeds from the sale of the Winthrop Square Garage, which they expect to receive in 2017. An additional $51 million will be received by the city upon closing of the sale.
“The sale of the Winthrop Square garage affords Boston the opportunity to make one-time investments to upgrade our public spaces, create more affordable housing and connect our neighborhoods together,” said Mayor Walsh. “I am excited that we are already preparing to advance the goals outlined in Imagine Boston 2030 through these improvement projects that will benefit residents and visitors across our city.”
Mayor Walsh is advocating for $28 million of the funds to go towards upgrades to the Boston Common, another $28 million for Franklin Park to create more access for surrounding neighborhoods and upgrade baseball fields and facilities.
In addition he hopes $25 million will go towards the Old Colony for additional apartments, $10 million for Orient Heights improvements and $11 million for the Emerald Necklace completion.
Joe Larkin from Millennium Partners said, “When you spend a million dollars in a neighborhood there are a lot of interesting things that can go on.”