Category: Beacon Hill Times

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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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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Livingstone Seeks More Discussion on Shadow Laws

By Beth Treffeisen

With the recent passage of Boston City Council’s home rule petition that aims to amend the current shadow laws that protect the Boston Common and Boston Public Garden, State Representative Jay D. Livingstone has come out against this legislation as it is written.

“I was surprised at the swiftness in which the Boston City Council took up this issue,” said Livingstone. “I hope to have a more deliberate discussion at the State House.”

Livingstone, whose district covers Beacon Hill, the two historic parks and the Back Bay, said he hopes to continue the protections in place for both the Boston Common and the Public Garden that are currently in place and if not, make them better.

The proposed legislation by the City will amend two state laws that for 25 years have shielded the downtown historic parks from excessive building shadows, while at the same time allowing development to grow.

The Home Rule Petition will be sent up to the State Legislature for a vote and then will have to be signed by Governor Charlie Baker. No amendments will be allowed beyond what the Boston City Council voted on.

The Boston City Council passed the Home Rule Petition for a Special Law “An Act Protecting Sunlight and Promoting Economic Development in the City of Boston” in a new draft with a 10 – 3 vote, at the hearing held on Wednesday, April 26.

In opposition were City Council President Michelle Wu, City Councilor Tito Jackson, and City Councilor Josh Zakim.

“There has been $150 million earmarked to important causes but the fact that we’ve been pitting neighbors against neighbors, and park against park, and district against district but the people in the city all care about the same things here in Boston is a problem,” said Zakim.

He continued, “We need to be advocating for more of these important resources on a daily basis and looking into the way it impacts us today and into the future.”

Zakim said that he is still unsure about the protections put in place for Copley Square Park because there is already a lot of development slated for that area. Due to the all or nothing approach with the proposed Winthrop Square tower height, Zakim said, he felt like he could not support this legislation.

City Councilor Bill Linehan, who is the lead sponsor of this bill, said that after working on this for close to two years with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), they had worked to receive the best deal possible for this piece of land.

“It has been a drag on the revitalization of downtown,” said Linehan of the closed Winthrop Square garage. “Now this has been assessed to be used to generate positive impacts throughout Boston.”

City Councilor Tito Jackson voted in opposition because he believes the planning of the building should be separate from creating policy changes.

“The question here really is we’ve gone through a transparent public process for a public piece of land that will put forward a project that will have an inevitable mark on the City of Boston” said Jackson. “I will submit to the City Council President that we did not.”

The bill will exempt one developer, Millennium Partners, from the laws in order to construct a tower in Winthrop Square that is capable of casting a mile-long morning shadow from the financial district across the Common, Public Garden and some days all the way to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

The luxury condo tower would violate state shadow laws 264 days of the year on the Boston Common and 120 days on the Public Garden. The new net shadow on average throughout the year is estimated to be about five minutes on the Public Garden and 35 minutes on the Boston Common.

The Shadow Bank was set up in an existing state law to allow projects within the Midtown Cultural District to draw from a one-acre bank for any new shadow cast on the Boston Common that is otherwise not in compliance with the law.

Under the home rule petition, the remainder of the shadow bank would be eliminated and any new slow moving, mid-day shadows to be cast on the Common from a future development would also be eliminated.

The proposal also includes two additional commitments: one will be to provide limits on new shadow on Copley Square Park cast from future structures built within the Stuart Street District and the second would require the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to conduct a planning initiative for the Midtown Cultural District and the Financial District.

The new draft clarified that for the proposed shadow protections for Copley Square Park, which will protect the park from any new structure from casting shadow between certain times of the day do not include any proposed buildings that have been approved by the BPDA on or before March 31, 2017.

If those proposed projects still need other permitting they will be grandfathered in.

On April 24, a packed Boston City Council Chamber played home to a seven-hour hearing. The discussion included the benefits and effects of the proposed home rule petition.

Liz Vizza, the executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, testified in opposition to this project.

Vizza said that the laws in place have shielded the parks from more than the development can take. She said that it is not about prohibition but it is about a balance.

“We are confident that this home rule petition sets a precedent for future developers,” said Vizza. “What is the limit on the sale of shadows? This deal provides that blueprint for the future. The ultra rich will have great views and the public parks will be damaged by these shadows.”

Chris Cook, Boston Parks Commissioner, said the funding that the parks get from the tower outweighs the additional shadow that it will cast on the downtown parks.

“They are America’s first public park and 1.5 million people a year visit the park,” said Cook. “That is a lot more than the budget can afford to take care of.”

The Winthrop Square project, Cook said, provides an opportunity to care for these parks for perpetuity by setting up a maintenance fund that will help the parks for years to come.

Greg Galer executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance believes it is premature to clear a path for a project when an impact has yet to be determined.

“It sets a precedent,” said Galer. “It changes a rule if enough money is proposed to the city. It’s a slippery slope. When will it stop?”

He continued, “Winthrop Square is not a one-off case. Once this Pandora box is opened the temptation will be too great, maybe not in this administration but maybe in another.”

Vicki Smith, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB), said that during the early morning hours the Boston Common and Public Garden are filled with people either walking to work, doing Tai Chi, or yoga.

“Having a little bit of extra light makes a big difference,” said Smith. “The shadows that we’re creating not only will affect us in our life time but our children’s and our grandchildren.”

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