Winthrop Square Tower Height Lowered

By Beth Treffeisen

In a lengthy Draft Project Impact Report that was released on January 2, the developers behind the Winthrop Square Tower outlined their latest plans for redeveloping the abandoned parking garage at 115 Winthrop Square including a new design with less height and possibly more economic benefits for the city.

One of the most notable changes includes the reduction of height from the originally proposed 775 feet to 691 feet including the mechanical penthouse in order to be consistent with the operating guidelines of Massport and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We’re really happy with the end result and we hope everyone else is as well,” said Joe Larkin a principal of Millennium Partners. “The final building and height will lessen the impacts, and we hope everyone is happy with it.”

The proposed building will still cast new shadows onto the Boston Common and the Public Garden, but will fit within the new Shadow Laws established last year.

The law that was established in 1992 limited the amount of new shadow that can be cast upon the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden from new structures during certain times of the day. Modifications had to be made in order for any building above 340 feet at the project site to proceed.

The developers, Millennium Partners participated in over 50 public meetings and information sessions with members of the community with the biggest outcry surrounding how the new shadows will negatively impact the public parks.

The developers have committed $125,000 annually for 40 years to the Friends of the Public Garden to go towards the maintenance and enhancement of Boston Common, the Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

Liz Vizza the executive director of Friends of the Public Park said that they have been pouring over the long-awaited document that was supposed to come out this past October.

“The impacts on the parks are what we expected,” said Vizza. “The height is what we expected would come from the Federal Aviation Administration regulations and the less height means less shadows on the parks…which is the right direction.”

Vizza said the Friends of the Public Garden are going to continue working with the city officials throughout the ongoing Article 80 process to create a master plan for the Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Ave. Mall.

As of right now, the Friends of the Public Garden are combing through the shadow study, and are making sure that their independent report, based on the 710-foot building aligns with the studies in the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

“Beyond that we will continue to be stewards for these parks and make sure they are not negatively effected by future development,” said Vizza. 

Vizza noted that the early morning shadows that will be cast by the Winthrop Square Tower are going to negatively impact the turf and trees in the parks. The early morning shadow she said could stop photosynthesis (the process that gives plants energy) from occurring, which could eventually lead to many plants dying. 

“Everything has a trade off,” said Vizza. “It is important that we continue to protect the parks from future development because there will be future development. The city is in the middle of a building boom. Winthrop Square Tower won’t be the last, and it changed law and set a new precedent. We need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Shadow studies were conducted to investigate potential impacts from the project on all historic resources in the shadow impact area including State and National Register listed historic districts and individually listed properties within the project’s potential impact.

The study explored potential impact on the vernal equinox (March 21), summer solstice (June 21), autumnal equinox (September 21), and the winter solstice (December 21).

An expanded shadow analysis shows that of a total of 160 locations studied (40 historic districts and 120 individual properties), 65 experienced new shadow as a result of the project. Of these locations, only six experienced new shadows on all four of the days studied and many of the locations only experienced new shadows on one of the four study days. 

Given that the proposed tower is located in one of the most densely populated areas of the Boston, many of the shadow impacts were limited to the roofs of nearby buildings, and not the primary facades.

In cases where the shadows extended beyond roofs to the building elevations, many of the shadows were cast on secondary elevations and not the primary building facades. Where there were shadows on building facades, existing shadows were often also present.

The Beacon Hill Historic District, including Beacon, Park and Tremont Streets, Embankment Road and south side of Cambridge Street the maximum duration of net new shadow will be 40 minutes.

On the Boston Common the maximum duration of net new shadow will be one hour and 20 minutes with a maximum duration of net new shadow on the Public Garden of seven minutes.

“We’ve gone through such excruciating detail with the studies and we have to have the numbers speak for themselves,” said Larkin. “It is best if people make their own judgment based off that data.”

Construction is expected to begin this summer. The demolition of the parking garage took place this past October.

The proposed tower will include about 715,000 square feet of residential space with around 500 condominiums. The building will include 750,000 square feet of office space along with 31,000 square feet of public space with a Great Hall, retail, restaurant and support space.

There will be underground parking for about 550 vehicles with 250 dedicated to office and retail. 

The project’s initial $102 million up-front payment has been preliminarily identified by the City to go towards the Boston Common, Franklin Park, Emerald Necklace, South Boston’s Old Colony public housing complex and East Boston’s Orient Heights public housing complex.

Overall, there will be a $1.3 billion direct investment in the City of Boston. This includes $166 million ($152,97,000 plus an additional $13,210,000 subject to the final residential sales square footage). 

The City of Boston has already received $10 million for the land, with $92 million at the end of construction and about $64 million for the sale of each residential unit in the amount of $100 per square foot of residential space.

In addition, once completed the project will generate an estimated $14 million in property taxes for the City of Boston.

There will be a contribution of $250,000 for the planning initiative for downtown Boston to be done by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

The Beacon Hill Civic Association has no comment, stating that the draft impact report doesn’t provide the necessary details on the changes made from the original proposed design.

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