Galvin Opposes Legislation on Amended Shadow Laws

July 14, 2017
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By Beth Treffeisen

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has come out against amending the current Shadow Laws to allow a one-time exemption to the proposed 775-foot Winthrop Square Tower.

After careful review of the shadow studies by the developers Millennium Partners, the Friends of the Public Garden and other recent commissioned studies, Galvin the Chair of the Massachusetts Historical Commission concluded that the building at its current proposed height would do great damage to historic buildings in downtown Boston, including the State House.

“Regarding the State House that is 200 years old – it’s going to have a profound impact in and on the building,” said Galvin. “There is going to be damage because of the loss of light and wetness that will be retained.”

In light of millions of dollars being spent on the historic rehabilitation of the front façade of the State House, Galvin said that new shadows would create moist conditions on the exterior walls and interiors of the buildings, causing problems such as lost mortar on the exterior walls that would need additional funding to fix in the future.

“Whose going to pay for that?” said Galvin. “Before you go ahead and do this you have to answer these questions.”

Galvin noted that the shadow study presented by Millennium Partners is incomplete and therefore flawed. It only depicts six individual days of the year and only shows the new shadow on the Boston Common and Public Garden – omitting the reach of the new shadow on the State House and Beacon Hill.

“I don’t support this legislation but if the legislature does vote to approve it, [the developers] should be liable for any damage to the State House or private residence on Beacon Hill,” said Galvin. “People in these private residences need compensation to fix these problems that they created.”

If built, the Winthrop Square Tower would cast a morning shadow stretching from Winthrop Square in the financial district, down the middle of the Boston Common, through the heart of the Public Garden and onto the Commonwealth Avenue Mall in the historic Back Bay – a distance of roughly a mile. Galvin said, “That’s pretty dramatic.”

According to the Friends of the Public Garden study, the proposed tower would be in violation of current Common Shadow Law 264 days of the year and in violation of the Public Garden Shadow Law 120 days of the year.

“If [Millennium Partners] can prove it wrong – prove it,” said Galvin. “Just do it in a public forum because this isn’t something that should be rushed.”

Galvin said that Massachusetts Historical Commission is not opposed to a building in that location but they are opposed to its current proposed height and the impact it will have.

In a statement from the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, Chair Vicki Smith said, “We applaud the efforts of the Secretary to make sure all questions are answered.”

The environmental impacts of the tower that will be addressed through the ongoing Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) process and the Article 80 process at the City level are separate from the House Bill 3749.

This bill will not approve the currently proposed project at 115 Winthrop Square but will allow the comprehensive review process to move forward.

“The proposed legislation simply fixes a complex, outdated law that permits buildings in certain locations from casting minimal shadows on the Boston Common, while allowing others that can potentially cast longer mid-day shadows,” said Director Brian Golden of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) in a statement. “By limiting future shadows, this legislation will protect the Boston Common, Boston Public Garden and Copley Square for many generations to come.”

He continued, “We are disappointed that the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office is convoluting the process that will give the City of Boston an opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into our neighborhoods to improve our parks and public housing.”

Golden said that BPDA encourages the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office to engage in the MEPA process and Article 80 process and discuss its concerns directly with Millennium Partners.

For now, Galvin said it is up to the legislature to allow more time to review this project and he said, “I can’t control the legislature but as Chair of the Massachusetts Historical Commission I hope they will.”

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