Fight for Light at City Council

By Beth Treffeisen

A proponent for keeping the present shadow law holds up a sign at the City Council hearing on Monday.

A packed Boston City Council Chamber played home to a hearing to discuss a Home Rule Petition on Monday, April 24, to discuss making a one-time exemption to the State laws that govern shadow on the Boston Common and the Public Garden for the developers behind the proposed 775-foot Winthrop Square tower.

The proposed legislation will amend two state laws that for 25 years have shielded the downtown historic parks from excessive building shadows, while at the same time allowing development to grow.

“We are emphasizing that we are not opposed to development because we have seen the positive impact that it has had,” said Liz Vizza, the executive director of Friends of the Public Garden. “But because of the height and the precedent that it sets for the two state laws we are opposed.”

The home rule petition titled, “An Act Protecting Sunlight and Promoting Economic Development in the City of Boston” was filed at the Wednesday, April 12 Boston City Council hearing.

The bill will exempt one developer, Millennium Partners, from the laws in order to construct a 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 all the way to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

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

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.

Under the 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.

The proposal also includes two additional commitments: one will be to provide limits on new shadows 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.

“We have major concerns that this proposal has with the both of the public parks. This one-off exemption is not a good idea,” said Vikki Smith, the president of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). “We would like to see broader discussion for development of the downtown area.”

After this hearing, the matter will be brought before the Boston City Council for a vote. The next City Council hearing will be held this Wednesday, April 26 at 12:00 p.m. at which time, Council could vote on the Home Role Petition.

If the City Council the bill will still need approval from the state legislature and signed by Governor Charlie Baker.

“It’s a pig in a poke,” said Martyn Roetter of NABB. “We don’t know what the value will be and we don’t know how the shadows will negatively impact the parks.”

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