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.”