With the proposed Longwood Place mixed-use development project in the Fenway poised to cast new shadow on the Emerald Necklace, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy is now petitioning the City of Boston to adopt a citywide “shadow protection policy” to prevent the creation of any new shadows on its public parks.
Skanska USA Commercial Development intends to redevelop Simmons University’s approximately 5.8 acre residential campus located at 305 Brookline Ave. into approximately 1.75 million gross square feet of residential, office/laboratory, retail, restaurant, commercial, community space, and parking. The project would comprise five buildings, ranging in height from 320 feet to 170 feet, and would replace a cluster of brick dormitory buildings that currently occupies the site.
In a letter dated Nov. 21 of last year to Sarah Black, the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s project manager for Longwood Place, Karen Mauney-Brodek, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, which is part of the city’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for the project, wrote: “While the proposal has evolved somewhat through the process and has included improvements, the Conservancy finds this project, in its current form, due to its scale and resultant significant shadow cast to be unacceptable for the public parks’ waterways, landscapes, recreational park users, and commuters.”
Shadows from the development would “cover significant areas of the park,” lasting up to two hours in some cases, according to Mauney-Brodek, and they would be most noticeable during the morning and evening commutes.
“This park is an active corridor for commuters, including many medical area workers, in all weather conditions,” she added. “This development, as proposed, would cast new shadow on vegetation and waterways that need sunlight for health. Additionally, due to snow and ice they would make pathways less safe for walkers and bikers travelling through the park in winter months.”
Mauney-Brodek further asserts in her letter that the project doesn’t adhere to the “Longwood Medical and Academic Area’s Interim Guidelines,” which can be found on the BPDA website, and state that no “no project will be approved if it casts any new shadow for more than one hour on the Emerald Necklace, Joslin Park or Evans Way Park.”
These guidelines also “call for a maximum prevailing height(s) of 75, 150 and up to 205 feet (varying by proximity to the named parklands),” according to Mauney-Brodek.
“Longwood Place in its current form casts shadows for more than 60 minutes on large swaths of the Riverway, Justine Mee Liff, and the Back Bay Fens Parks,” she wrote. “Moreover, the proposed heights in the project are up to 320 feet, far exceeds the area’s ‘interim guidelines.’”
Moreover, an online petition (available at https://tinyurl.com/TBS-shadow-petition) started by Steve Wolf of the Fenway with the goal of preventing new shadow from encroaching on the Emerald Necklace due to new development had garnered 469 signatures towards its target of 500 signatures as of the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 11.
In response to the shadow concerns raised by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and others, Kelly Farrell, landscape designer and ecologist for Sasaki, wrote in an email: “Since the start of the design process in the summer of 2021, the design team has consistently reduced new net shadows, thanks in part to productive community feedback. The current plans will result in new shadows limited to the early portions of the morning along the Riverway and later portions of the afternoon along Higginson Circle, hours when sunlight is less direct, and the flora may be less impacted photosynthetically. Given the light tolerances of the plant species that currently thrive in the Emerald Necklace, coupled with a lack of research showing consistent plant responses to building shadow, we believe the new shadows will have a negligible impact on the flora or ecology of the Emerald Necklace.”
Additionally, Carolyn Desmond, vice president of development for Skanska USA Commercial Development Inc., wrote: “We pride ourselves on our thoughtful approach to creating emerging sustainable design solutions that matter to our communities. Our proposal for Longwood Place follows the city’s latest Planning Vision, Imagine Boston 2030, which reflects the growing needs of the Longwood Medical Area and Fenway neighborhoods, and which identified this site as an extension of the dense, walkable, mixed-use core. From the outset of this project, we have been responsive to the community, and our collaboration has resulted in increased affordable housing, even more accessible open space, and improved public realm and transportation enhancements. Our intentional effort has achieved a consistent reduction in net new shadow with each subsequent iteration of the PDA project.”
In her letter, Mauney-Brodek urged the BPDA and the development team to reconsider the Longwood Place proposal while giving particular attention to its impact on public parks, especially since, in her group’s estimation, the project as proposed could “threaten to undermine” the dredging of the Muddy River, along with the “restoration of the plantings and paths along its banks.”
To this end, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy is urging the City of Boston to immediately start developing a “shadow policy for all parks citywide,” according to Mauney-Brodek. Less than 2 percent of the city’s parks (i.e. the Boston Common and the Public Garden) are currently protected from future shadow impacts, while height restrictions are in place only for the first block of development along some limited areas of the Emerald Necklace. By working from shadow policies already in effect in other cities, she estimates the City of Boston could complete its shadow policy by the fall of 2023. And as in other cities, “the Parks and Recreation Commission should review all proposed development that would cast new shadow on a public park,” she wrote.
Since Longwood Place is expected to be a multi-phased development that would get underway “four or more years from now,” the Conservancy is requesting that if Planned Development Area (PDA) approval is sought for the project, it must require that each new building is evaluated to ensure consistency with the citywide shadow policy, as well as ensure that the Boston Parks and Recreation Commission review and evaluate any potential new shadows, wrote Mauney-Brodek.
In a letter to Mayor Michelle Wu, also dated Nov. 21 of last year, Mauney-Brodek again lobbied for the adoption of a citywide shadow policy.
She suggested that the formula that the city uses to calculate contributions for affordable housing and job training from large-scale development projects could be updated “to support parks, transportation, daycare or other public goods like in other cities.”
Mauney-Brodek also points to the success of Philadelphia’s recently instituted “Soda Tax,” which to date has raised around $385 million to finance myriad projects in that city, including parks and libraries.
“Some might argue that ‘this is the wrong time; for a new policy, or that we cannot object to a proposal that has been working its way through the review process,’” she wrote. “But all are better off with clear rules that provide certainty for our parks, residents, communities, leaders, builders, institutions, and workers. We all need to understand the opportunities and limitations in a context based on consensus instead of the current mayhem that pits one public good against another, and the success of the few.”
In response to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s concerns, a BPDA spokesperson wrote in an email: “The BPDA and [Boston Parks and Recreation Department] have committed to conducting a study to analyze shadow impacts on the Emerald Necklace. The BPDA is also committed to using the resulting recommendations from that study to inform a new policy that will regulate the impacts of future developments on existing and new open spaces. Mitigation funding provided by the Longwood Place developer will be used to support the study. The project will also contribute funding for BPRD to set up an endowment that will support the ongoing maintenance and preservation of this critical public asset. The package of mitigation funding totals $7 million.”