Boston City Council votes in favor of changing ‘shadow’ law – Council backs shade

By Dan Atkinson Thursday, April 27, 2017

t’s not clear the City Council’s 10-3 vote to ask legislators to alter the state’s shadow law will receive a sunny reception on Beacon Hill.

The rep whose district includes the Boston Common said he is not backing the plan to allow the $1 billion redevelopment of the Winthrop Square garage to shade the park.

“I don’t support this as written, the balance of this bill is a negative on the Common,” said state Rep. Jay Livingstone, adding he would not sponsor the bill affecting his own backyard in order to bring it before the Legislature.

“The laws were put in place 27 years ago to prevent this and they’ve worked well,” Livingstone said. “A lot of people were reserving judgment until the City Council acted, but people I’ve talked to have similar concerns.”

 The plan, backed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the Boston Planning & Development Agency, would see Millennium Partners develop the site into offices and luxury units and pay the city $102 million up front and $50 million as units are sold.

Walsh has said he would use that money to pay for needed improvements to affordable housing projects, Franklin Park and the Common itself.

The council agreed yesterday to ask the Legislature to sign off on altering a state law meant to prevent shadows from large buildings casting shade on the Common. And other Boston legislators said they had not made up their minds about the project.

“This is a precedent that could be set, obviously that’s a concern — we need to protect the asset that is the park,” said state Sen. Joseph Boncore, whose district includes the Common. He said he was not supporting or opposing the plan yet.

After Walsh signs off, the pitch must be sponsored by a legislator for state officials to consider it. City officials said they were engaged in ongoing conversations about sponsorship.

But Joe Larkin, principal with Millennium Partners in Boston, said he believed the Legislature would ultimately vote in the project’s favor.

“When the process starts, the state legislators will hear that the city of Boston has spoken resoundingly to move this forward,” Larkin said. “When they understand the benefits and understand the impacts I hope the Legislature will do the same thing city officials have done.”

District 7 Councilor Tito Jackson, District 8 Councilor Josh Zakim and Council President Michelle Wu all voted against the plan, with Jackson and Zakim arguing it would throw too much of a shadow on the Common and set precedent for future developments. But other councilors said the plan’s benefits were too important to pass up.

“I will sell my soul if it helps poor families live in decent housing,” said District 1 Councilor Sal LaMattina, who voted yes. “I sold my soul but I will sleep better knowing people in my neighborhood and in South Boston and Chinatown can sleep in nice beds because of the deal we’re going to vote on today.”

State Sen. Will Brownsberger, whose district butts up against the Boston Public Garden, vowed nobody is going to “rubber stamp this bill, it needs careful study.”

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