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Throwing Shade: Boston Mayor Pushes for New Tower

Monday, April 17, 2017

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Officials in Boston have begun pushing for the construction of a proposed 775-foot tower in Winthrop Square. Their opposition? The state’s shade laws.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency is expected to introduce legislation that exempts contractor Millennium Partners’ proposed $1 billion project from laws that limit shadows cast by developments onto the Boston Common and Public Garden. Millennium Partners have multiple other developments in the city and beyond, including a project currently under fire in San Francisco.

What’s the Proposition?

Currently, there is what’s called a “shadow bank” that current developers can tap into for new Midtown Cultural District buildings. The expected petition eliminates that bank but grants an expectation to the proposed tower. It means that the tower can be built and cast shadows that would exceed the limits, but no one else can, effectively putting a cemented cap on the height of any other developments in the area.

The BDPA looked at the possible future developments that would use the bank, and found that their average annual shadows would exceed that of the Winthrop Tower, which leads them to call the legislation a win for everyone.

Renderings: Handel Architects

The Boston Planning and Development Agency is expected to introduce legislation that exempts contractor Millennium Partners’ proposed $1 billion project from laws that limit shadows cast by developments onto the Boston Common and Public Garden.

“You get a better outcome by accepting the Winthrop Square shadow and eliminating the possibility of the shadow bank allowing new height in the Midtown Cultural District,” said BPDA director Brian Golden.

The Shadows

This would overturn laws that were enacted in the early 1990s, which dictated that buildings in Winthrop Square could only cast shadows over the Boston Common and Public Garden during the first hour after sunrise or before 7 a.m. (whichever is later) or the last hour before sunset.

Winthrop Tower, from Handel Architects, would cast shadows exceeding what’s currently allowable by law, for 282 days a year.

“The average daily prohibited shadow would be 37 minutes, with no shadows after 9:30 a.m., The Boston Herald reports. “The longest duration of prohibited shadow would be 96 minutes. The tower would cast prohibited shadows on the Public Garden for 112 days, with no shadow after 8 a.m. Those shadows would last a maximum of 23 minutes, with an average daily duration of five minutes.”

The Numbers

Millennium Partners would be buying a one-acre site from the city that’s currently a dilapidated parking garage, giving Boston a $153 million payday ($102 million for the garage and another $51 million contingent upon the tower’s revenue).

Millennium Partners would be buying a one-acre site from the city that’s currently a dilapidated parking garage, giving Boston a $153 million payday ($102 million for the garage and another $51 million contingent upon the tower’s revenue).

The city has pledged to put that money back into public spaces and housing—$28 million each for Boston Common and Franklin Park, $11 million to the Emerald Necklace, $25 million toward redevelopment of the Old Colony public housing in South Boston and $10 million to the Orient Heights public housing in East Boston.

The project would also generate $12 million to $15 million in annual property taxes, according to The Herald.

The tower was chosen from six proposals. Millennium plans for the tower to hold 460 residential units, office space, a business accelerator, retail spaces, restaurants and up to 550 garage parking spaces. A public gathering space would also be implemented, which would be three stories high with its 20-foot glass panels open to the sidewalks, weather permitting.

Reaction

Critics say that altering legislation sets a dangerous precedent and despite the claims that it would actually stop others from building to a certain height, say that there’s nothing to stop others from trying to get the same exemptions and succeeding.

The city has pledged to put that money back into public spaces and housing—$28 million each for Boston Common and Franklin Park, $11 million to the Emerald Necklace, $25 million toward redevelopment of the Old Colony public housing in South Boston and $10 million to the Orient Heights public housing in East Boston.

In a letter to the City Council at the end of March, 13 representatives of neighborhood parks associations wrote in opposition of the petition.

“As park advocates we are all concerned, because a threat to one greenspace is a threat to all, and what happens to one can happen to others,” the letter said.

Elizabeth Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, gave the impression her organization was a little more open.

“We are continuing to work with Mayor Walsh and the BPDA to ensure that a final resolution provides broad, permanent protections for the city’s landmark parks and minimizes the impact of shadows from the proposed Winthrop Square project,” Vizza said.

Parks officials, though, are not the only ones who oppose the height of the new tower.

Millennium plans for the tower to hold 460 residential units, office space, a business accelerator, retail spaces, restaurants and up to 550 garage parking spaces. A public gathering space would also be implemented, which would be three stories high with its 20-foot glass panels open to the sidewalks weather permitting.

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan International Airport, said it would object to any height taller than 710 feet, saying that a tower taller than that would interfere with airport operations, blocking a takeoff corridor and leading to noisier air traffic over Boston’s suburbs.

A Millennium Partners developer, however, said the company would not consider cutting the height.

“We feel this project was holistically designed at its optimum size in response to achieving the goals that the city required for this public asset.”

The petition needs City Council approval before it’s then sent to the state Legislature. It must also be endorsed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Golden maintains that the benefits from the tower far outweigh any downside.

“This is a once in a multi-generational thing,” he said.

   

Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Construction; Laws and litigation; Residential Construction; Tower

Comment from Jesse Melton, (4/17/2017, 7:56 AM)

Anytime someone says innovative, optimum or special case, then blames legal regulation for prohibiting those things, if really makes me wary of that person.

All those things are the expression of ideas within a predefined framework. The bounds imposed by that framework are what creates an environment for innovation. If everybody had a limitless microverse in which to work then nobody would have anything. In this case some knob would have already built a building that encompassed all of midtown and would have a monopoly on the space. It would be like Feudal Europe. You could do anything you wanted as long as you could do it. When someone came along and wanted your thing you'd only be able to keep it if you were able to kill enough of the opposing forces that takeover was impossible.

The contractor and the developer here are not the kind of people you want to have a big presence in an important part of your city. They spent millions of dollars to design something they knew was prohibited, with the intent of ramming it through the system anyway. I think they should be sent back home and told to start over.


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