Winthrop Square Shadow Issue

I wanted to keep folks posted on a controversial issue.

Over the past year, many have been in touch with me to express concern about the Winthrop Square development and the shadow it will cause on the Boston Common.

I understand and share the strong concern for preservation of our parks.  I also understand the possible slippery slope concern that any amendment to shadow protections raises.

Until now, the issue has been in the hands of others.  First, it had to go through the Boston Planning and Development Authority.  Then, the Boston City Council.  And then the House of Representatives.  It has cleared all those hurdles.

The bill has arrived in the Senate from the House.  Here is a link to the text.

I feel that, after all of the negotiation that has occurred, the package is acceptable.  Here are the considerations that are in my mind:

  • The building is not adjacent to the Common.  The shadow cast will reach and move across the Common only in the early mornings of winter days.
  • There is only very limited slippery slope potential.  This transaction involves the sale of a City owned property.  It does not set a precedent for most other developments.
  • As a result of the efforts of Representative Rushing, the legislation requires the City to conduct a zoning study regarding the downtown areas closest to the Boston Common and Public Garden and report on the potential future impacts on the parks and recommend ways to minimize those impacts.
  • Also as a result of the efforts of Representative Rushing, the shadow protections for Copley in city zoning law will be set in stone by incorporating them in state statute.
  • The legislation removes one of the exceptions that exists in the current law (the shadow bank), so reducing the potential for additional development closer to the Boston Common.
  • The development does have enormous value for the City with a host of collateral benefits.
  • I generally want to support housing development at every market level to improve the balance of housing supply and demand.
  • In many respects, although they have negative quality of life impacts, urban high-rise buildings are, in fact, the most environmentally sensible kind of housing to build — apartments are much more energy efficient than homes, they do not destroy habitat like suburban sprawl and they reduce transportation emissions to the extent they locate people near jobs.

I am also very hopeful about the negotiations that Representative Jay Livingstone has been facilitating among the City, the Friends of the Public Garden and Millenium Partners to provide resources and improve the stewardship of the Common and the Garden on a long term basis.

I expect that the legislation will come up for consideration in an informal session on Monday and I will not oppose it.

Statements from Others

  1. Statement from Representative Livingstone (link)
  2. Statement Circulated by Friends of the Public Garden (reproduced below).

On Monday, July 24, the State Legislature passed and sent to Governor Baker’s desk H. 3749, a home-rule petition filed by Mayor Walsh to exempt Millennium Partner’s planned 775-foot luxury condo tower at Winthrop Square from two state laws passed in the early 1990s to shield the Boston Common and Public Garden from new building shadows.

Throughout our 47 years as guardians of the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the Friends has been a steadfast and vocal advocate for the protection and enhancement of our three treasured parks. As you know, since last fall we have expressed deep concerns about the impact the Winthrop Square development would have on our parks and the prospect of it becoming a blueprint for future exemptions from the state laws that have protected the Common and Garden while allowing development to continue in downtown Boston. We acknowledge, however, that the City Council, with its 10-3 vote in favor of the home rule petition, spoke with a clear voice. The Governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

While we lost the battle to prevent this exemption from the state laws, we have succeeded in negotiating important commitments through our discussions with the Mayor’s office, the Boston Planning and Develop Authority, and Millennium. The City has committed to a comprehensive planning study for Downtown, which is sorely needed if Boston’s development is to be guided by a broad perspective about what we need to preserve as we grow as a city, and not address one building at a time. The City has also committed to develop a master plan for the Common that will involve a robust public process. The Friends will actively partner with the Parks Department in this planning process, which will guide the spending priorities for the $28 million slated to come to that park. Of the $28 million, $5 million will be set aside in a trust that will be used to fund maintenance of the Common. The Friends will appoint one of three trustees along with appointments by the district City Councilor and the Mayor. In addition, Millennium has agreed to make an annual contribution of $125,000 for 40 years to a special fund managed and overseen by The Boston Foundation that will be used for the maintenance and enhancement of the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

These agreements provide a consequential and much needed infusion of capital for the Common, Boston’s most heavily used park, as well as an annual revenue stream to help mitigate the impact of the shadows cast by Winthrop Square on the three parks. We will be an important voice in planning for the future of Downtown that protects the very greenspaces that make Boston so livable and desirable.

As this new chapter opens, we remain, as always, steadfast guardians of the Common, the Garden, and the Mall. We plan to remain deeply involved in ongoing environmental and Article 80 reviews related to the Winthrop Square building, as well as in ensuring that this statutory exemption remains – as Mayor Walsh has pledged – a one-time exception to the Shadow Laws. We will vigorously oppose any further encroachment of shadows on these landmark parks beyond this one exemption.

We want to publicly thank our state representatives – Jay Livingstone, Aaron Michlewitz, and Byron Rushing – and our state senators – Will Brownsberger and Joe Boncore – for their invaluable assistance throughout the legislative process. We also want to acknowledge the support of our City Councilor, Josh Zakim, City Councilor Tito Jackson, and City Council President Michelle Wu.

While we would have preferred that City officials had seen the wisdom of standing firm against any deviation from the state laws that have served the parks and downtown development so well for over 25 years, we appreciate that the process fostered a productive dialogue with Mayor Walsh, and we want to thank him for hearing our concerns. We look forward to continuing to work together with the City to protect and enhance our irreplaceable greenspaces in the decades ahead.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

13 replies on “Winthrop Square Shadow Issue”

  1. I am in full agreement with your support of Winthrop Square. As a Downtown Boston resident, we welcome the vibrant ecosystem that this project will usher in.

    A bridge between the Greenway and Midtown, it will connect disparate areas of the city and create a seamless destination for a multitude of isolated neighborhoods. A walkable Boston will be the legacy.

    1. Bridge to where? There is no place to go! The bridge will empty out into an already very narrow and contested street at the Greenway creating more, not less, congestion. There is literally no available wiggle room for increased public transportation. The MBTA can’t even handle what it currently has. More busses? Tell me where there is any room for expansion that eases connection- NONE. Streets in Boston will not get any wider to handle it and where is the ability and funds to increase rail and MBTA infrastructure. You have drunk the koolaid.

    2. Bridge or wall?! Precedence for continued overarching development- shadows, traffic, density be damned. Take a look at Copley Square and Boston Properties. Where does any plan for smart and sustainable development exist? Boston 2030 does nothing to stop this unbridled development and residents hav very little power once aoproved. Any changes from feedback from residents are mainly window dressing to mollify already overdone density. And where is the upgrade to infrastructure (think public transportation)? Our city is unique in that there is no where to go for expansion. Think about it and don’t Be tempted to drunk the whole glass of kool aide.

  2. Very disappointing to me Will. I don’t think there is any good reason to change a law.

  3. I believe you should add a provision in the legislation establishing an audit committee to ensure that the commitments made and development process unfold in conformance with your very high expectations for Millennium Partners’ reliability. In past arrangements with similar provisions they have been reluctant and partial in fulfilling obligations. Further evidence, their self serving misrepresentations about untimely discovery of the shadow impact, suggests the value of ongoing supervision of the multiple “benefits” that you point out to verify truthful implementation.

  4. There is no transparency here with respect to the contract between the City and Millenium. Under what circumstances can Millenium renege or take advantage of loopholes and sloppy drafting to reduce their cash payments to the city. Remember, this is the same company that stiffed the city after the Ritz project was completed….to the tune of $400k+ in improvements to the Commons. My point is that this bill is being presented in the self interest of an untrustworthy group….to the detriment of the taxpayer. Alas, you are all in the pocket of unions and rapacious developers… just look at the rape of the Prudential center or the Seaport or……

  5. My husband and I STRONGLY oppose this legislation!
    There is no legitimate reason to change the existing law.
    Once this building is up, it will be too late to do anything about it.

  6. please make sure that all negotiations have been completed and signed off on before you vote for this travesty.

  7. But is it so difficult for them to chop off a few stories and get this over with?
    Certainly a project of this scale has wiggle room.
    Mr. Galvins thoughts do resonate.

  8. I continue to believe, as I testified before the Joint Committee, that the Legislature does not have sufficient information on which to make a reasoned decision. The information it lacks is, What would the 6 bidders who responded to the RFP have offered to pay to purchase this property if the shadow law continued to apply? Comparative figures are needed. The matter should therefore be returned to the BRA/BPDA for a re-bidding, in which two bid prices are specifically requested. It may turn out that both sides of the issue may be thus be accommodated – the City could receive a substantial sum while the shadow law is preserved. I sincerely believe this to be a sensible solution, and ask you and your colleagues to carefully reconsider your current position of support.

  9. You are wrong on all counts. In the winter the park – and the people walking through it – get at most 7-8 hours a day, already greatly reduced from the rest of the year. For you to dismiss this as a non-issue is totally unacceptable.

    Your slippery slope arguments are equally bad. If you do not oppose this you have lost my vote, and I will vote for your opponent in the next election no matter who it is.

  10. Although I greatly admire and respect the work you do, I continue to disagree with your position on the Winthrop Sq. project with regard to the shadow law exception. As others have indicated, it’s never been made public what the other RFP’s offered re bldg height, and it’s equally unclear as to why the added stories of the current development were so very critical to the deal. Surely the developer could have managed to make the money needed with fewer stories. I continue to believe this was/is a deal with the devil, despite my advocacy for construction of more housing at all price points.

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