Category: Environment

DCR Unveils Final Design for Esplanade Riverfront Pavilion

By Beacon Hill Times Staff

By Dan Murphy

The Department of Conservation and Recreation and its development team unveiled the design for the proposed Esplanade Riverfront Pavilion at the third and final public meeting on the matter at the State Transportation Building Wednesday while proposing a unique, public-private partnership for underwriting the project.

Watertown-based architect Maryann Thompson said the first level of the two-story building would accommodate office space for Hill House and other partnering organizations while the second story would feature a “multi-purpose” space that could accommodate various sports, theatre and other programming.

An outdoor space on the building’s second floor, which Thompson described as a “giant New England-style porch,” would provide terraced landscaping that would allow for seating, and could accommodate shuffleboard and other activities, as well as offer unobstructed views of the Charles River.

Sitting atop the second level would be a “green-roof” that would also be occupiable, Thompson said.

DCR Commissioner Leo Roy said since the project presently has no funding, the state would issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking an entity or entities to enter into a 10-agreemnt to finance construction of the building and eventually operate it. The RFP is expected to go out for bidding next month, with responses due in February of next year. Afterwards, Roy anticipates at least a two-year construction process.

Roy expects the annual budget of operating the facility would be between $750,000 and $1 million, and that it would be made available for private, special events to help underwrite this cost.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone said, “The project has evolved tremendously. It’s great to see all the public comments and viewpoints come together, and I think it’s going to be great.”

Duane Lucca, a project stakeholder and representative for the West End Museum, said he hoped that the pavilion wouldn’t be “controlled by a small contingent of groups, but rather open to the wide community.”

Meanwhile, Thompson said the development team had conceived three concepts for repurposing the Upper Gates Lock House on the Esplanade, all of which would “keep the fabric of the building.”

One option involved a year-round “interpretive center”; a café with outdoor seating that would be open in the spring, summer and fall; and a space for Nordic ski-rentals during the winter months, she said.

Public comments on the pavilion are due on Friday, Nov. 17, and can be submitted online to http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/public-outreach/submit-public- comments/ or
in writing to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Office of Public Outreach, 251 Causeway St., sixth floor, Boston, MA 02114.

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Esplanade Association Names Michael Nichols Executive Director

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The Board of Directors for the non-profit Esplanade Association today announced the unanimous selection of Michael J. Nichols, of Boston, as the organization’s Executive Director. Nichols, an experienced public servant, attorney, and non-profit professional will begin at the Esplanade Association on November 29.

Nichols joins the Esplanade Association after three years at the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, serving the last 2.5 years as Chief of Staff. At the Greenway, Nichols was responsible for the Conservancy’s community and government affairs, external communications, and advancing strategic priorities. Under his leadership, the Conservancy negotiated a landmark public-private funding agreement, opened Boston’s first fully open-air beer garden, launched the organization’s signature young professional fundraising event, significantly grew earned revenue with innovative activities, and initiated numerous partnerships with other leading Boston institutions for in-park events.

“Michael has proven strategic leadership experience in communicating the value of a public/private partnership to care for – and activate – an urban public park,” said Alexi Conine, Chair of the Esplanade Association Board. “We were impressed with his passion, broad skillset, and record of success in mission-focused government and non-profit work. He will help fulfill the Association’s goal of making the Esplanade an innovative, sustainably-maintained recreational destination and cultural asset. We’re thrilled to have Michael join us.”

The Esplanade Association is the 100% privately funded friends group dedicated to stewardship and improvement of the Charles River Esplanade in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Since the organization’s founding in 2001, the Esplanade Association has raised over $14 million which has funded new Park amenities, restored Park assets and infrastructure, improved horticultural offerings, initiated new programs and public art, managed a robust volunteer program, and made key improvements to the three-mile stretch of waterfront park.

“The Charles River Esplanade is a jewel of Boston parks and I couldn’t be more excited about being named Executive Director of the Esplanade Association to continue the organization’s transformative work,” said Michael J. Nichols. “The Park already has a fantastic mix of signature events and regular activities in addition to its status as Boston’s most peaceful respite from city life. I look forward to working with the Association’s Board, the dedicated EA staff, our partners at DCR, and the Park’s many stakeholders to revitalize and enhance this signature public space.”

“The Esplanade Association plays a key role in supporting the ongoing maintenance, care, and improvement of the Charles River Esplanade,” offered State Representative Jay Livingstone. “I look forward to working with Michael Nichols to ensure the continued strength of this important public/private partnership.”

Nichols, who received both his bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Connecticut, began his career in public service as Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel to two state representatives in the Massachusetts Legislature, specializing in public finance and community development. He later served as Research & Policy Director to the full 13-member Boston City Council.

About the Esplanade Association (esplanadeassociation.org)

The Esplanade Association is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to revitalize and enhance the Charles River Esplanade, sustain the natural green space, and build community by providing educational, cultural, and recreational programs for everyone. Working in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Esplanade Association is dedicated to improving the experiences of the millions of visitors who enjoy Boston’s iconic riverside green space.

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Galvin says New Shadow Law Removes Layer of Protection for Historic Parks

By Beth Treffeisen

Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed a home-rule petition into law that would allow Millennium Partners to move forward with building a 775-foot tower on the site of the city-owned Winthrop Square Garage, bypassing two existing state laws that protect the Boston Common and Public Garden from new shadows.

Mayor Martin Walsh introduced this bill last April for a “one-time” exemption to the state shadow laws, citing the reported $153 million sale of the property would bring to the city. The Boston City Council approved sending the bill to the State House in a 10 – 3 vote.

 

“The bill passed removed a layer of protection for historic sites but it doesn’t mean the project is exempt from other processes,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin. “Millennium wouldn’t be able to build this building without that exemption but it’s still fuzzy on how it’s going to go moving forward.”

Galvin said that although this project skirts around the 25-year-old state shadow laws that have shielded the downtown historic parks from excessive building shadows, there is still more to be done.

The project, which is set to break ground next year, is still under going the Article 80 process with the City, has yet to complete the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) report, and still needs to gain the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration before it can reach its proposed height.

In addition Galvin said there hasn’t been a wind study or a complete shadow study that goes beyond the downtown parks into the surrounding historic neighborhoods.

“The process is going to go on,” said Galvin. “A layer of protection has been removed, but the building is not exempt from the process.”

As part of the MEPA report, Galvin who is the Chair of the Massachusetts Historical Commission will work towards determining the effect the proposed tower will have on historic buildings and sites downtown.

Galvin said that although the bill may have taken away a layer of protection for the Public Garden and the Common there are other buildings and historic architecture that needs protection as well.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Walsh, the Friends of the Public Garden and other stakeholders on the short-term and the long-term improvements to the Boston Common that are possible because of our collaborative efforts,” said State Rep. Jay Livingstone.

 

The Friends of the Public Garden worked with the developers Millennium Partners to come to agreement that would invest $125,000 a year for 40 years towards a fund for the upkeep of the Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

 

The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that this is not the outcome they had hoped for but understand that the City said that this is a one-time exemption and offered further study and protections for the Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall from development and its subsequent impacts from mid-town.

Vicki Smith the executive director of NABB said that the neighborhood association would continue to request shadow studies and wind studies on new development in the Back Bay that negatively affect Copley Square and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

“Given the dramatic number of new buildings under construction and consideration it is more important than ever to protect and preserve our increasingly used green spaces,” wrote Smith. “They are precious and significantly contribute to what makes the Back Bay so attractive to both residents and visitors.”

She continued, “On any given day virtually year round, there are people from all over Boston and the world in Copley Square and on the Mall. NABB will continue to advocate for the protection and enhancement of these iconic spaces for future generations.”

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Everything You Need to Know about Winthrop Square and Its Shadow Law Exemption

Representative Livingstone has been a longstanding advocate for parks and open spaces. He has done a lot of work in his district to maintain the integrity of the public greenspace that the 8th Suffolk has to offer, including the Boston Common and Public Garden.  Shared, public spaces are beloved and used by everyone, from residents who walk through the Common each day to tourists that visit the Common all year round. Below are some inquiries that our office has received about the current debate on shadow exemption and the Winthrop Sq Project. 

If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to my Legislative Aide, Caitlin Duffy, at Caitlin.Duffy@Mahouse.gov

 

What has Jay been doing to protect the Boston Common and Public Garden?

I have worked with the other elected officials (Reps. Michlewitz and Rushing, Senators Will Brownsberger and Joe Boncore, and Councilor Zakim) who represent the Boston Common and Public Garden or areas close to the parks to secure the best result possible from this process.  I have also worked closely with the Friends of the Public Garden and other neighborhood groups, such as the Beacon Hill Civic Association and Neighborhood Association of Back Bay.   The negotiations with the City and developer started in October 2016 and only recently ended.

I appreciate the direct involvement of Mayor Walsh.  It was especially helpful working with him and other elected officials and stakeholders throughout this process.  He has made specific commitments to going forward and I am excited to work with him and others to make much needed capital improvements on the Boston Common.

Does the current law prevent all shadows?

No.  This is a common misunderstanding of the law.  The Shadow Laws, enacted in 1990 and 1993 to protect the Boston Common and the Public Garden, limit amount of new shadow, or additional shadow cast beyond existing shadows by development during certain times of day and certain times of the year on any part of the park.  The shadow does not need to cover the whole park to trigger the law, just part of it. 

The original laws contained a number of exceptions that allowed further development causing new shadows on the Common and Public Garden.

No other parks were protected, including the Commonwealth Mall or Copley Square.

Here are the protections and some of the exceptions contained in the original laws:

Boston Common Shadow Law (Chapter 362 of the Acts of 1990)

  • General Rule - New shadows are currently only allowed during the first hour after sunrise or 7AM, whichever is later; or, the last hour before sunset.  This generally allows new shadow as late as 8:30 AM.
  • Midtown Cultural District Exception - New shadows cast between 3/21 and 10/21 are allowed if the area shaded at the end of two hours is less than one acre, cumulative of all permitted shadows exceeding the two-hour limit, or Shadow Bank. Otherwise, no new shadow allowed between 3/21 and 10/21 that lasts more than two hours between 8AM and 2:30PM.  The Midtown Cultural District is the area closest to the two parks.  The properties included in the District and excluded from it were heavily negotiated.  This allows a building to cast a shadow as late as 2:30 PM.
  • South Station exception - allows shadows cast the first hour after sunrise or 8 AM, which ever is later.
  • Current shadow bank contains .26 acre of total allowable cumulative acreage.  This allows more shadows to be cast for properties in the Midtown Cultural District.  One developer proposed a building at 171 Tremont Street last year that was twice as high as zoning allowed and required the use of the remaining shadow bank.  This proposal was rejected by the BPDA and was approved at half the height requested.

Public Garden Shadow Law (Chapter 385 of the Acts of 1993)

  • Additional shadows are allowed in an area that is already shaded by an existing structure, or by a permitted structure whose height conforms to as-of-right zoning as of 5/1/1990.
  • General Rule - New additional shadows allowed only during first hour after sunrise or 7AM, whichever is later; or during the last hour before sunset; otherwise no new shadow allowed.
  • Midtown Cultural District Exception: New shadows only allowed if they are cast before 10AM during the period between 3/21 and 10/21.
What does the proposed exception allow?

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (formerly the BRA), officially began its effort for special legislation that allows more shadow to be cast on the Boston Common and Public Garden from Winthrop Square.

The exception does not allow a shadow to cover the whole park at any time.  Indeed, the shadow from the proposed building will sweep across the parks.  The times below are the latest that the proposed shadow will appear on any part of the Common and Public Garden.

Specifically, it allows a shadow of two hours (instead of one) after 7 AM or an hour after sunrise on the Common.  This will allow a shadow on part of the Common until approximately 9:30 AM at the latest.

For the Public Garden, it allows a shadow for 45 minutes after 7 AM or an hour after sunrise.  This will allow a shadow until approximately 8:15 AM on part of the Public Garden at the latest.

The Commonwealth Mall is not protected by either of these laws.  I understand that the building, if built to the current proposed height, would cast a shadow after 7 AM or an hour after sunrise of approximately 15 minutes at the latest on the Commonwealth Mall.

The proposed building will cast a shadow of much shorter duration on most days.

 

What concerns has Jay attempted to address?

The biggest concern that I had from when I first learned of the possibility of this request was the precedent of creating an exception to a law that had not changed since 1993.

I was also concerned about the need for consistent long-term resources to protect the parks.

Finally, I looked for ways to decrease negative encroachment from shadow from this project as well as future developments

I kept these concerns foremost in mind over the last ten months of negotiations with the City and developer. 

What resulted from Jay's efforts working with his colleagues?

Reps. Rushing, Michlewitz, and I with Councilor Zakim started negotiating with the City and the developer in October 2016 and recently completed our agreements. We also worked with Senators Brownsberger and Boncore, who provided great support.  As a result, I ultimately did not object to the legislation passing the House of Representatives.  (My colleagues and I had objected for a long time, holding up the process.)  Here is the final result:

  • The City agreed to conduct a zoning study regarding the downtown areas closest to the Boston Common and Public Garden and report on the potential future impacts and recommendation ways to minimize those impacts.
  • Protections from shadows for Copley Square codified in State law.  This is the first new park protected since 1993.
  • Elimination of one of the exceptions that exists in current law (shadow bank) that allows development close to Boston Common.  This establishes the precedent of a "shadow for shadow" trade.
  • Mayor Walsh committed to spend $28 million from the Winthrop Square sale in the Boston Common on capital improvements.
  • Mayor Walsh committed to set aside $5 million of $28 million in a perpetual trust to only be spent on Boston Common.  The three trustees are appointed by the Mayor, Councilor for Eighth District (currently Josh Zakim), and Friends of the Public Garden.  The proceeds of the trust will be spent annually on park improvements in the Boston Common.
  • Millennium committed to provide $125,000 per year for the next 40 years for improvements to the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Mall.  The Boston Foundation will hold these funds.
  •  Mayor Walsh  agreed to partner with the Friends of Public Garden with respect to all improvements.
  • The City agreed to undertake a master planning process for the Boston Common prior to spending $23 million.
  • The City agreed to spend $200,000 for a master planning process to make improvements to Copley Square.

Separately, the Mayor’s office has pledged to give money to various park projects across the city to make up for the shadow being cast on the Boston Common. It has pledged $28 million for Franklin Park improvements, $5 million for the Greenway, $11 million for the effort to complete the Emerald Necklace, $25 million toward redevelopment of the Boston Housing Authority’s Old Colony Public Housing in South Boston, and $10 million for improvements at the BHA’s Orient Heights public housing in Orient Heights. 

The agreements and other commitments address many of my concerns.  I hope that I am never confronted again with the request of an exception to this law.  Mayor Walsh has committed that this is a one-time exception.  Still, I understand this exception creates a precedent.  I view the precedent that the cost of an exception is a "shadow for shadow" trade removing pro-development rules; re-evaluating other development rules; protecting a new park with anti-shadow rules; providing significant, immediate capital improvements for park improvements; providing long-term resources for care of the parks; and the City receiving significant additional funds for important needs such as affordable housing.  

 

Why couldn't the building be a little shorter?

I am often asked why the building could not be a little shorter.  The current proposal is to build a 775 foot building at Winthrop Square.  Unless the building was approximately 325 feet tall or around 60% smaller, it still would have needed an exception in the law.  A 500 foot building or 600 foot building would have required creating the same exception in law. 

Where does the bill stand now?

Because of the way the Public Garden protections originally became law, the changes needed to be adopted by the Boston City Council and the State legislature.

The Boston City Council enacted the exception using what's called a "home rule petition."  It passed the City Council 10-3 in April and only Councilors Josh Zakim, Michelle Wu, and Tito Jackson voted against it.

It was filed in the State legislature in June and was enacted by the House and Senate on July 24, 2017.  Governor Baker signed the bill into law on July 28, 2017.

 

Does Millennium need any further regulatory approvals?

Yes.  Millennium is still proceeding with the BPDA's Article 80 process and the State's MEPA environmental process.  In addition, Millennium will need an exception from the FAA for the height it requests.

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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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