Advocates oppose construction of tower casting shadows over Boston Common, Public Garden

Advocates oppose construction of tower casting shadows over Boston Common, Public Garden

By Abigail Freeman

Months after the City of Boston selected Millennium Partners’ proposal to develop a multipurpose tower at 115 Winthrop Square, advocates for public landmarks continue to fight against this construction, as it violates state shadow laws, according to Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, an organization dedicated to improving Boston’s public parks.

The site at Winthrop Square is currently occupied by a four-story parking garage that was condemned in May 2013, according to a statement from Millennium Partners.

Millennium Partners was selected by the city on Aug. 3, 2016 out of six different submissions from development teams, according to the statement.

Millennium Partners submitted their proposal in March 2016 for a tower up to 725 feet “that must contribute substantially to the image of downtown Boston’s skyline [and] that is emblematic of the future of Boston’s downtown,” according to the statement.

Vizza said the Winthrop Square project would damage Boston’s parks if exempt from the state’s shadow laws.

“This arrangement sets … a standard for allowing the shadow to have a permanent impact on these parks,” Vizza said. “This shadow alone isn’t going to kill these parks or the horticulture, but it adds more shadow on parks that are already shaded.”

The city will receive a total of $153 million from Millennium Partners with the tower project, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has determined that the first $102 million will be invested into Boston parks and affordable housing, according to a fact sheet from the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

While the Friends of the Public Garden recognizes that Walsh will use the money from Millennium Partners to improve Boston parks, Vizza said the funding should be obtained without compromising the protection of the parks.

“Since they’re the people’s parks, the people deserve a voice in deciding how they’re protected and how the city grows with them at the heart of the matter, thinking innovatively about how we can revitalize this garage site,” Vizza said. “We can get the financial benefits for the city that we all agree are a good thing while strengthening and protecting these parks.”

Vizza said Boston has grown as a community in terms of evaluating projects and their impact on resources since state shadow laws were put in place for the Public Garden in 1993 and the Boston Common in 1990.

“Those two laws were put in place that provided for robust development over the last two and a half decades while protecting these parks from excessive shadows, which means that there are allowable shadows,” Vizza said.

The Friends of the Public Garden have met with the BPDA to discuss development in accordance with the shadow laws, Vizza said.

“We continue to have a respectful disagreement about this project, but a close partnership with the city on all things regarding these parks and how to preserve them and enhance them, and encourage people to use them in the right way,” Vizza said.

Vizza said she hopes this project will not start a trend of future projects that will be exempt from the law to be built.

“[The Winthrop tower project] also creates a blueprint for another proposal in the future, and another either developer or future mayor to see this as an opportunity to amend the laws for their building,” Vizza said.

A shadow will be cast over the Boston Common and Public Garden as a result of the tower’s height, although according to the fact sheet, the shadow will not qualify for the shadow bank, which is the maximum amount that a shadow can exceed the limit under state law in the Midtown Cultural District.

Several Boston residents expressed varying opinions about the idea of a new tower in Winthrop Square.

Matthew D’Intino, 24, of Back Bay, said residents could see a decrease in rates for rent as a result of the condos in the new building.

“The added supply of condos should drop rent prices, which I think will benefit everyone,” D’Intino said. “It’s also good to see the city growing.”

Christine Dornbach, 33, of Fenway, said the tower would change the atmosphere of the Winthrop Square area.

“I would think the tower would stop [Winthrop Square] from having a more residential, homey feel,” Dornbach said. “I would say people in Winthrop are probably upset about it.”

Olivia Shelton, 20, of Brighton, said she does not see the need for another apartment and office complex, especially if it is being built at the expense of a landmark like the Public Garden.

“I don’t see how it could cause too much damage but I also don’t see it as a good thing for people to live there if it’s just going to be another expensive apartment building that only people in their 50s can afford,” Shelton said.

Tags: 115 Winthrop SquareAbigail FreemanBack BayBoston Commonboston mayor martin walshBoston Planning and Development AgencyBrightonChristine DornbachCity of BostonFenwayFriends of the Public GardenLiz Vizza,Matthew D’IntinoMidtown Cultural Districtmillennium partnersOlivia SheltonPublic Garden