Officials, Residents Wrestle with Intrusive Shadows

By Beth Treffeisen

The proposed redevelopment of the deteriorated Winthrop Square Garage might go as high as 775 feet, and may cast a shadow as far as a third of a mile away onto the Boston Common, the Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall, breaking existing shadow laws.

The current laws restrict any new shadows on the parks outside of certain permitted conditions. This will need to be modified in order to permit this or any other tall project to proceed on this site.

The Friends of the Public Garden who have consistently advocated for protecting the public parks from excessive shadow and wind resulting from development projects that would harm these green spaces came out asking for a solution to prevent this from happening.

“As you know, in 1990, the Friends worked with elected officials and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now the BPDA) to draft and enact legislation to protect the Boston Common and Public Garden from damaging new shadows,” wrote Liz Vizza, executive director of Friends of the Public Garden in a statement.

She continued, “This shadow protection has worked as intended – it has successfully protected our parks, while allowing robust development to continue in the city. Now, 25 years later, we are facing a new generation of buildings that challenge our parks.”

Vizza states that the Friends of the Public Garden believes that a comprehensive solution needs to be made to downtown development projects that threaten to cast shadows on the parks and do not conform to the current legislation.

The organization will be meeting with the BPDA, gathering information, and seeking answers to unresolved questions as this project moves forward.

The Winthrop Square project will be reviewed under Article 80 of the Boston Zoning Code, along with a continuation of the community participation. This process is also expected to include review by an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) and the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC).

The Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) will have a board member on the IAG, Ben Starr, and they will be keeping an eye on the development as it continues forward.

“While we do know that the current proposal doesn’t comply with the shadow law, and that the shadow impacts of the initial design could be significant, we understand that the design of the building is still in flux and thus the exact nature and extend of the shadow impacts is yet to be determined,” wrote Mark Kiefer the chairman of the Board of the BHCA in e-mail.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) approved the tentative designation status to Millennium Partners for the redevelopment of the former City of Boston parking facility located at 115 Federal St or also known as 115 Winthrop Square in Boston’s Financial District at the November 1, Board of Directors meeting.

The proposed redevelopment will consist of a designed, iconic, tower of mix-use up to 775 feet tall. The project is anticipated to include about 480,000 square feet of office space, about 35,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and about 4,000 square feet of accelerator office space.

The building will be constructed with LEED Platinum standards, the highest green building certification.

It will also include parking below grade that can have up to 250 spaces for commercial private and up 550 parking spaces total.

Construction of the project is estimated to begin the third quarter of 2017 with initial occupancy that will be office space will be by the fourth quarter of 2020. Demolition of the existing garage and related work may occur prior to construction commencement.

“This mix-use profile will not only set the standard for workspace in the financial district but it will also embrace the growing residential area, enhancing the vibrancy in the downtown area,” said Sarah Myerson the director of planning at the BPDA, during the meeting.

The project is anticipated to result in purchase price payments to the City of Boston totaling approximately $152,790,000.

The entire building will be respectfully designed around a voluminous approximately 200 foot long by 60 foot wide by 60 foot high area that includes curated public gathering space named The Great Hall, that will connect streets, cultures and ideas and people.

It will be open 18 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year. It will also create a physical connection between Federal and Devonshire streets.

“At Winthrop Square we really have an unparalleled opportunity to create a space for all of Boston,” said Seth Riseman from Handel Architects at the meeting. “It will really help transform the intersection of the Financial District and Downtown Crossing into a neighborhood. It will create a destination.”

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