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Downtown View: Shadows vs. Money

Aren’t we Bostonians better than Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump?

Millennium Partners beat out several other developers in a plan to demolish the city’s decrepit parking garage at Winthrop Square and build a 700-feet-plus skyscraper, paying the city millions of dollars to be spread around for park improvements, affordable housing and the like, all of which Boston needs. It’s a good project with a good outcome for Bostonians.

There is one problem, however. The project’s shadow would at times fall on the Boston Common and Public Garden, even though they are several blocks away. This means the building would violate the 27-year-old state law protecting the parks from shadows that can reduce plant health and people’s enjoyment. This law, as its advocates point out, has helped the parks and has not deterred development in Boston’s downtown. It should not be tampered with lightly.

So when I attended a meeting about the project sponsored by the Boston Planning and Development Agency, I was eager to see if anything could be worked out that would be a win-win for both sides.

Except for a gorgeous translucent model of downtown Boston, however, the event, attended by a couple hundred people, was depressing. It was two sides lining up like McConnell did against Obama, swearing that not one thing Obama wanted would ever get passed. It was like Trump—demonizing opponents with insults.

It was embarrassing to listen to an older man viciously screaming at young BPDA staffers because the format was not like the December meeting with a presentation and a time for audience comments. Instead there were stations set up with posters, videos and architects’ models addressing different elements in the project.

Then there was the battle of the buttons. Several attendees wore “Keep Our Parks Sunny.” Others were milling around with buttons that said “Let Boston Rise.” I was told that some people wearing the latter were union members.

Several residents muttered to me and one another about how deceptive Millennium officials were, how awful they were, how it was all about greed, and that they should simply slice off the top half of the building, bring it down to 300 feet and try to make a living off that.

It was embarrassing to hear the public sniping about a developer who started the revival of the Combat Zone by building a hotel and condominiums.

It was embarrassing to realize that there appears to have been a lack of awareness early on, on the part of two mayors and the BPDA, that a tall building in this location would cast an illegal shadow on parks several blocks away. After all, these people are professionals.

It was embarrassing that the BPDA had not figured out how to warn people that the format would be different, since the crowd obviously couldn’t handle that surprise.

It was embarrassing that downtown folks, who typically enjoy more financial resources than do “working” people, can’t properly acknowledge that they also care about jobs the property development brings.

It was embarrassing that “working” people don’t realize that many downtown people do care that the wealth is shared generously among all kinds of workers.

It was embarrassing that the public couldn’t appreciate the ironies. For example, if the project’s location were closer to the park—let’s say where Macy’s is—its shadows would pass muster, said BPDA Director of Development Review, Jonathan Greeley, since buildings in the Midtown Cultural District (and over South Station) have less restrictive shadow limits. One reason some locations were restricted less was that the city was trying to foster development in those areas.

How did we get to this level of rancor and lack of humanity? How did we get to the place of no compromise, no ability to stand in another’s shoes?

I have been to many meetings about contentious matters. Often members of the public bond over their mission, pumping it up into a fight between good and evil, even if the morality of the matter is vague.

This is a good example. Both sides have good points. But the demonization must stop. The players should maintain respect for the other side’s position, even if they don’t agree with it. They should advocate without trying to destroy reputations or mocking the other side.

This can be worked out. My hope is always that Millennium narrows the top of their building into a point, like the Empire State Building, reducing the shadow and also improving Boston’s skyline. Ameliorating shadows was the reason the Empire State was designed like that. (It was also designed with a tie-up for a blimp, but that’s another story.) But that is just my hope, because we all have quirks.

There is a process to go through, and I have no answers to these serious problems. But compromises can be made. Everyone may lose something but I hope both sides win a lot.

Downtown View is a column by newspaperwoman Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Karen now works from her home in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com. Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.

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15 Replies to “Downtown View: Shadows vs. Money

  1. Got to love people like this. Uses an article about shadows to bash trump and praise Obama. Where is the unity that she talks about? Another swing and a miss!

    1. The writer is consistent with her Trump bashing from her last article. She should not be writing for this news publication!

  2. I don’t understand why the writer is bringing in Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump into this article and issue. She’s a divider, versus uniter. She and this publication clearly have a bigger agenda then focusing on the best interests of Boston community. She has lost me as a reader and supporter of this publication and those that she contributes to.

  3. Karen writes “the demonization must stop,” then immediately demonizes Trump, McConnell, an older man, the public, two Boston mayors, the Boston Police Department, downtown folks and working people.

  4. What I am sure the “working” people were responding to was a presentation suddenly controlled by one side, the developer,, as if this is a fait accompli. Also, what of the law? The opponents of the monstrosity clearly have the law on their side. The plan as proposed casts illegal shadows on Public Garden and Boston Common. Should we just disregard that so that a developer can make more money? If so, then this is a dangerous precedent leaving developers open to challenge every limit. Why not?? Just throw the city a bone and make $$$$. Forget about preservation of the use and enjoyment of our property and public parks.

    This article really misses the point. The development as planned is illegal. Why compromise?? It is illegal.

  5. It is all about the money…………Who is getting paid…….and…….who is receiving???????

    We need more parking, not more apartments or condos………………Mr. Mayor….you have a driver——we do not!

  6. Macys was mentioned. Has anyone asked asked Macys ececutives why in a major downtown neighborhood why the Macy’s store is treated like a bad suburban branch rather than a full scale downtown store,

  7. WHY is a City-owned downtown, transit-accessible parcel being sold to to a private developer to build more luxury housing?

    And WHY are we even discussing whether this luxury housing development should be allowed to cast shadows on the Common or the Garden at *any* time of day?

    WHY was this parcel not made available for affordable/workforce housing, at a price that would make that affordable/workforce housing doable at a height that would not impact our parkland?

    Maybe #RelatedBeale, which is doing the impossible & developing affordable/workforce housing and NOT more luxury units on the CA/T Parcel 1B, could work the numbers on this garage site to develop it into affordable/workforce housing.

    Finally, WHY is ANY city-owned property being made available for the purpose of developing more luxury housing? Let alone WHY are we even discussing whether luxury housing developed on city=owned property should be allowed to cast shadows at any time at all on our parkland?

    Shaking My Head.

    This city of Boston property tax-payer wants any city of Boston-owned property released for housing to be used to construct affordable/workforce housing. PERIOD.

    I am OK with a lower price for this city-owned property if it results in transit-oriented downtown affordable/workforce housing.

    1. Amen Tommye!!! This city of Boston might look to Nantucket Island to see what happens when affordable housing for the workforce is an after thought or no thought at all. The mid 90’s saw the demise of that, until recently. When the middle class was basically forced off island everything else changed beginning with importing workers from other nations. You cannot put Pandora back in the box. Boston needs to rally it’s intelligence and follow established laws and precedence otherwise what makes Boston Unique among cities will cease to exist.

    2. Milllennium Partners and affordable housing are about as much alike as oil and water. Anyone who engages with this company knows what they are about. This srticle tries to present them as altruists. Article is a complete sham and just a platform for the author’s political beliefs. Also displays the Author’s lack of maturity. Thus, if she can’t get her way she lay on the floor kicking and screaming … for the next 4 years? If the election talk wasn’t enough, looks like it will be the same column every week.

  8. Another meandering, pointless diatribe about shadow casting combined with the self-righteous wrath from the idle of Beacon Hill. Laborious, repetitive, tiresome writing. Between the opening and closing sentences just a void that never completely brings the thought together. The article amounts to one huge piece of filler.

  9. I agree with J Johnson that this woman is a complete snowflake and she is in serious need of medication. I would suggest antidepressants and psychotherapy. The election is over,Trump is our 45’th president so suck it up and move on !!

  10. You are all missing the point. Obama and Trump are mentioned because they are contemporary references and to simply to paint a picture, to illustrate a point. “compromises can be made…the demonization must stop…”. These are the key issues. I say well done.

    I say Let Boston Rise.

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