Mayor’s Home Rule Petition to Amend Current Shadow Laws is Filed with the State

By Beth Treffeisen

Mayor Martin Walsh has filed a home rule petition with the state legislature that will allow the Winthrop Square Project to go forward at 775 feet, which is no reduction from the original height that was proposed by the developers.

State Representative Aaron Michlewitz and State Senator Joseph Boncore are petitioning the bill that will amend two state laws that for 25 years have shielded the downtown historic parks from excessive building shadows.

“I’m certainly in support especially because it got strong support from the City,” said Michlewitz. “It is incumbent on us to find an appropriate balance moving this forward.”

On Wednesday, June 14 the bill was assigned to the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. There will be a hearing before the bill goes to the full House and Senate. If passed, the Governor’s signature is also necessary for it to become law.

Michlewitz believes a hearing date will come by the end of July before the House formally breaks in August. He said there is time constraint put on the legislation because of the agreement between the City and the developers.

This past April, the Boston City Council voted in favor of the Home Rule Petition in a 10 – 3 vote. There will be no amendments allowed passed beyond what the Boston City Council voted on.

“I’m in support of this legislation because the economics for the City is going to be game changing,” said Boncore who named the $28 million that would go towards beautifying parks throughout Boston. “The economic funds play into a good solution for other open spaces in the City including the nearby Greenway.”

He continued, “I think all the groups at the table were satisfied or very closed to being satisfied, whether they are the legislatures, Friend Groups or Mayor Walsh. The City Councilors who voted against it are probably still against it but, I understand that.”

The Friends of the Public Garden have been in discussions with the Mayor’s Office, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), and Millennium to express their deep concerns about the impact the Winthrop Square tower will have on the Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The Friends appreciate the Mayor’s responsiveness to these concerns.

“While we still have strong reservations about a one-time amendment to laws that have worked to protect our parks while allowing development to continue in downtown Boston, we acknowledge that the City Council, with its 10-3 vote in favor of the home rule petition, spoke with a clear voice,” said Liz Vizza the executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden in a statement.

She continued, “As champions of these parks who have invested in their care for nearly 50 years, we have a strong stake in their healthy future. To that end, we are working toward an outcome that will result in stronger park protections, a significant investment in the parks, and a comprehensive planning process for downtown development.”

The bill will exempt one developer, Millennium Partners, from the laws in order to construct a 775 foot tower in Winthrop Square that is capable of casting a mile-long morning shadow from the financial district across the Common, Public Garden and some days to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

The tower would violate state shadow laws 264 days of the year on the Boston Common and 120 days on the Public Garden.

Within the current state law the Shadow Bank was set up to allow projects within the Midtown Cultural District to draw from a one-acre bank for any new shadow cast on the Boston Common that is otherwise not in compliance with the law.

Under this Home Rule Petition, the remainder of the shadow bank would be eliminated and any new slow moving, mid-day shadows to be cast on the Common from a future development would also be eliminated.

“With the elimination of the shadow bank, the money that developers promised towards the Greenway and funding towards Friends of the Public Garden is a start to make a balance to move forward,” said Michlewitz. “Plus there is the protection of Copley Square.”

The new proposal will provide limits on new shadow on Copley Square Park cast from future structures built within the Stuart Street District.

It will protect the park from any new shadows between certain times of the day but will not include any proposed buildings that have been approved by the BPDA on or before March 31, 2017.

“I think it will provide a proper formula for developments in the future,” said Michlewitz. “It will have added protection related to open space.”

The Home Rule Petition also requires the BPDA to conduct a planning initiative for the Midtown Cultural District and the Financial District.

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