I read with great interest Deb Blair’s April 11 letter to the Editor concerning the Winthrop Square garage project. Her position is that the one-time inflow of cash from the sale of the parking garage is worth trading off the integrity and vitality of the Common for today’s users and future generations of Bostonians. In her letter, Ms. Blair has shown she understands the important role the Common has had historically as a central gathering place, an important open space serving all residents, and attracting many visitors to Boston. But at the same time she is urging the Friends of the Public Garden, which spend close to $1 million a year on the Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Mall, to sacrifice its decades long efforts to improve these parks working in partnership with Boston Parks Department.
I question some of her statements. The amount of new additional shadow cast by this project will affect plants and trees, contrary to what Ms. Blair wrote. In fact as shown by the graph published in the Beacon Hill Times, new shadow occurs on the Common primarily during times important to tree growth and health: February to mid-June, during the prime plant growth period; and August through October, when plants are using sunlight to store energy to their roots for the winter season. A prime example of this need is the loss of a grove of cherry trees at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets which are dying because of too much shadow. The Winthrop Square project will cast new shadows two thirds of the year, with longest extending to the Commonwealth Ave. Mall. The Winthrop Square development does impose a cost to the Common and Public Garden, not only because of the new shadow impacts but also because it sets a precedent for future developers by offering large sums of money to persuade the City to change the important state laws that have been enacted to protect the Common and Public Garden. One reason these laws are so important is that the City’s zoning code is easily bent through variances that are readily recommended by the BPDA and enacted by the Zoning Board of Appeals whereas amending a state law is a much more complex and difficult process. The housing to be provided in the Winthrop Square tower is luxury housing. As we have seen already, such luxurious condominiums attract rich investors from around the world, but it does not directly add to the housing stock for middle and low income residents of Boston. Another important consideration is that the developer, Millennium Partners, has not yet submitted state and city environmental impact studies. We are being asked to change state laws for a project before understanding fully what all its impacts are and how they will compare to alternative designs.
We have to ask ourselves why has this proposed project generate such controversy. I believe it is because for many of us, it is a question of how much we value our legacy treasures for the present and future generations. Will this project and the change to the shadow laws firmly demonstrate the principle that money can always trump legacy?