City Council Ponders Change to Shadow Law

April 22, 2017
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By Beth Treffeisen

A Home Rule Petition that will make a one-time exemption to the State laws that governs shadow on the Boston Common and the Public Garden for the developers behind the proposed 775-foot Winthrop Square tower was filed with the Boston City Council at the hearing on Wednesday, April 12.

The Home Rule Petition will eliminate the remainder of the shadow bank, and instead allow a limited amount of new shadows to be cast on the Boston Common and the Public Garden from new construction at 115 Winthrop Square.

The Shadow Bank was set up in an existing state law 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.

According to the Friends of the Public Garden just over a quarter of an acre is all that remains in the Shadow Bank today.

Under the proposal filed Wednesday, 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.

The proposal also includes two additional commitments: one will be to provide limits on new shadow on Copley Square Park cast from future structures built within the Stuart Street District and the second would require the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to conduct a planning initiative for the Midtown Cultural District and the Financial District.

This will allow the City to partner with the community to have a predictable future for the area.

Councilor Bill Linehan, the lead sponsor of this petition filed this Home Rule Petition and asked for a hearing to discuss this proposal. The matter was sent to the Committee of Government and Operations.

Once it is opened up for a public hearing it will then be brought back for a vote by the Boston City Council.

If the Council later approves it, the home rule bill will still need approval by the state legislature and signed by Governor Charlie Baker.

“I’ve been around here for a while on both sides and it’s a pretty big deal,” said Linehan. “Is it going to cost us? Yeah, we’re going to get a shadow but we also eliminate the shadow bank.”

The current proposed tower by the developers Millennium Partners includes a mixed-use tower up to 775 feet tall. The entire project is anticipated to include over a hundred thousand square feet of gross floor area that will be broken into residential units, retail, dining, innovative office workspace and commercial parking below grade.

The $153 million purchase price will equal about five percent of the city’s FY 2017 budget, making it a huge motivating factor for the Walsh administration to pass.

When this project first appeared before Boston City council for the sale of the property it was assed at $40 million according to Linehan. The site has now been sitting vacant for over seven years. Beforehand, $1.8 million of revenue from the parking lot went towards the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to fund public safety within the housing authorities.

“It’s $153 million if built for the City of Boston,” said Linehan. “That’s far above what we would have imagined extracted for this and far above what we would have gotten for this property.”

At the Boston City Council hearing, Councilor Tito Jackson aired concern about this Home Rule Petition.

“I don’t think it’s really about shadows. I think it is about a shadowy process that has taken place,” said Jackson. “This has not been a transparent process.”

He pointed out that this would put additional shadow on the oldest park in our country and will open the door of a 25-year-old state law and then close it back up again sets an off-putting precedent.

“One of the institutions that would benefit from this project is in my district but this is why we need to think about this holistically,” said Jackson. “We are on the third rail with this and we need to think about this cautiously.”

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