Legislators Delay Bill on Changing Shadow Law

By Beth Treffeisen

In an unexpected turn of events, state lawmakers put on hold for two weeks a bill that will give a one-time exemption to the developers Millennium Partners to build a 775-foot high building exempting them from laws meant to protect the Boston Common and Boston Public Garden from new shadows.

Secretary of Commonwealth William Galvin, who also is the chairman of the State Historical Commission, told the joint committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, that he wanted to hold off passing the measure, at least for two weeks.

According to a report from WGBH, Galvin said that the Historical Commission had been kept out of the loop and that he had learned of new developments, including the final height of the building that is still being determined, only last Friday.

Galvin asked that the Committee delay passage of the bill until more details are finalized.

In a two-hour session, a number of testimonies were made from community members including Vicki Smith, the president of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, Leslie Adam, the Chair of the Friends of the Public Garden, Brian Golden, the executive director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, Chris Cook, the commissioner of the Parks Department, Joe Larkin from Millennium Partners and more.

“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,” said Adam of Friends of the Public Garden in her testimony. “But we are working toward an agreement that will result in a significant investment in the parks, as well as a comprehensive planning process for downtown development.”

She continued, “Our goal is to minimize – or mitigate – the impact of the shadows and gain assurances about future exemptions from these laws.”

According to State Representative Jay Livingstone, who is on the joint Committee, this is just the first step of many to get this Home Rule passed, which the Boston City Council approved in a 10 – 3 vote earlier this year.

“It remains to be seen how long it will take to gain passage,” said Livingstone. “It has been a few months since the City Council approved it and one month since it was filed, and the Committee was quick to have a hearing on it.”

In addition, Livingstone said that the Friends of the Public Garden are in ongoing discussions with Millennium Partners and that also will impact how fast it moves forward.

“We are happy to be moving forward,” said Smith. “But we understand that the Friends of the Public Garden are still negotiating and talking with Millennium Partners.”

She continued, “It was an interesting meeting. The room was packed…we are surprised that everyone showed up again to testify.”

Livingstone said that the Committee will continue to do some research. When Committee members feel like the bill is ready, there will be a poll of the Committee members before it can be passed on to the floor. If the House and Senate pass it, Governor Charlie Baker will have to give it final approval before it is passed into law.

“It is one step in a multi-step process,” said Livingstone.

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