Winthrop Square Project Draws Large Crowd Over Shadows

By Beth Treffeisen

A packed courtroom at the Suffolk Law School laid the stage for the first public meeting held for the proposed tower at 115 Winthrop Square by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) on Monday, December 5.

Members of the community voiced their concerns over amending the current Shadow Laws to allow a 775-foot high mix-use tower to be built, casting additional shadows onto the historic parks The Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

On the Boston Common and the Public Garden current Shadow Law requires that no new shadow should be cast one hour after either sunrise or one hour before sunset. In order for the current laws to change the developers, Millennium Partners, will need legislative approval from both the city and state to proceed.

In order for this building to be within the current Shadow Laws the proposed tower would have to be cut in half to be from 350 feet to 440 feet tall.

“Every project has some negatives and positives and this is what this process is all about,” said Joe Larkin from Millennium Partners. “It can do great things for the city and can be a fundamental resource to the city. It’s going to have to be a balance and one is the shadow on the Boston Common.”

The proposed redevelopment of the project site consists of a tower of varying uses that will be built around an approximately 200 foot long by 60 foot wide by 60 foot high area that will be known as the Great Hall. This will connect streets and act as a gathering place for people around the city.

The project also includes innovative office space, 300 or more residential units, retail, dining, and other commercial space. Residential and private commercial parking will be below grade.

The project is anticipated to include about 1,100,000 to 1,500,000 square feet of gross floor area and the allocation of square footage among specific uses will be determined during the design process.

The entire building would be held to the LEED Platinum green energy saver, which is the highest rating worldwide.

The developers also propose upgrading and renovating Winthrop Square to make it more pedestrian friendly and welcoming. Buildings that are about 400 feet tall frame the square, which might soon get masked by the proposed tower.

The building will generate about $12 million annually in taxes that will go towards the City.

“In this time when the resources are scare right now and we are not sure where the money is going to come from in the federal level and the state has all kinds of issues here – this is $12 million dollars,” said Larkin.

The City has earmarked $102 million in proceeds from the sale of the Winthrop Square Garage, which they expect to receive in 2017. An additional $51 million will be received by the city upon closing of the sale.

“The building has to be in balance across the board here but it is something that we all have to deal with in this age of dwindling resources,” said Larkin.

There will about 100,000 square feet of affordable housing that developers will work with the Asian Community Development Corporation to distribute in Chinatown.

Even with multiple public benefits many residents of downtown Boston still are wary about amending the law to allow for this one-off in the Shadow Laws.

“I don’t generally think that a one-off agreement is inappropriate,” said Sue Prindle a resident of the Back Bay. “I don’t think we should do it. I think the next developer will be right behind with his or her pocket book extended and I think that will be too much to give.”

Prindle continued saying that we have been given the parks by our previous generations and we should continue to be generous stewards of them. She pointed out that they are invaluable recourses to both the visitors of Boston and to those of us who live here.

The Shadow Laws that went into affect in 1990 and 1993, states that no new structure can cast a new shadow upon the Public Garden or Boston Common beyond the first hour after sunrise or before seven in the morning, whichever is later, or the last hour before sunset.

Any structure within the Midtown Cultural District, which holds the immediate area around the Boston Common and Public Garden, the Shadow Laws states that no new shadow should be cast on the two parks after 10 in the morning on any day from March 21 to October 21 in a calendar year.

Millennium Tower, which was built by the same developers, also casts new shadows onto the two parks. The tower is located in Downtown Crossing, making it situated within the Midtown Cultural District, fitting it into the existing Shadow Laws.

“The beauty of those laws is that they’ve protected these two parks while allowing for robust development over the last 25 years,” said Liz Vizza the executive director of The Friends of the Public Garden. “The Friends are very concerned about eroding shadow protections from the parks in creating an exemption for one building that is sort of precedent for others.”

Currently the proposed tower at 115 Winthrop Square, which sits outside the Midtown Cultural District, the shadows that it would cast would be out of compliance of the law on the Boston Common at the most 1 hour and 30 minutes of the day. Any new shadow would be gone by 9:30a.m.

On the Public Garden it would be out of compliance at the most 29 minutes of the day. Any new shadow would be gone at the latest by 8:30a.m.

Vicki Smith the Chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) stated that the developers have known that they would have to change the current laws for some time and that many Boston residents have not been aware until these last few weeks.

Smith stated that NABB is opposed to any change in the Shadow Laws.

“The law was established for this reason,” said Smith. “A change in this law to accommodate, not mitigate harmful consequences from this proposed structure is bad public policy.”

She continued, “Changing the Shadow Law would send a indistinguishable signal to all the developers to these possible changes in law by offering money that can be applied to other worthwhile uses by the city.”

The comment period to the BPDA is currently open until January 2, 2017. The next public meeting will be held on December 19, 2016 at 290 Congress Street at 6:30 p.m.

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