Real Estate

City Council Votes to Pass Home-Rule Petition for Winthrop Square Garage Development

Winthrop Square Rendering (Millennium Partners)

The Boston City Council approved the purchase of the city’s vacant Winthrop Square garage for $153 million by Millennium Partners to build a 775-foot-high tower. The home-rule petition needs a State Legislature vote because the $1 billion development would add shadows to the Boston Common.

Here is a summary of Wednesday’s debate from City Council President Michelle Wu, one of three councilors to oppose the deal. Below also find the statement from Joe Larkin of Millennium Partners.

Winthrop Square debate and vote by Council President Michelle Wu:
We voted 10-3 (Councilors Jackson, Zakim and myself opposing) to pass an amended home-rule petition that would clear the way for the Millennium Partners proposal to redevelop the current city-owned garage structure at 115 Federal Street into a 775-foot skyscraper. This proposal currently violates state shadow laws protecting sunshine on Boston Common and the Public Garden, as it would cast a shadow on many days of the year extending from downtown across the Common, across the Public Garden, and onto Commonwealth Mall. On the worst days of the year, the shadow would last until 9:30AM on the Common. The home-rule petition provides an exemption for this project from these state laws, as well as capping additional development near the Common from creating additional shadow, and adding formal state law shadow protection for Copley Square. Councilor Flaherty reported back on Monday’s well-attended 7-hour hearing where we heard from many stakeholders.

Several Councilors spoke on the issue today: Councilors Linehan and LaMattina spoke to emphasize that this was a great deal for the city, providing $153M for affordable housing in East Boston and South Boston and parks investments in the Common and Franklin Park that would not otherwise be possible, as well as $12M anticipated in annual tax revenues. Councilors Zakim and Jackson stood to oppose the measure, describing this as false urgency and pitting neighborhoods against each other. Councilor Pressley explained that she would be supporting the measure because of the incorporation of goals and metrics for the inclusion of Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), and Millennium had agreed to quarterly rather than annual reporting. Councilor Campbell described her support as based on the idea of equity, that Franklin Park and her constituents deserved investment, and even though the process was not ideal, the city should learn from the mistake and move on. Councilor O’Malley dismissed impacts on flora and fauna from the additional shadow and lauded funds for maintenance of the Common and Franklin Park. He dismissed the process concerns, citing that the Council had voted last year to engage the BRA in managing the process.

I didn’t speak on the matter at the meeting since I was presiding over the discussion, but I had explained my position in this op-ed. I’m most concerned about the fact that at least some employees within the BRA seemed to recognize that there would be major legal changes needed due to the shadow laws (since they are quietly referred to in the RFI and RFP), but did not disclose this to the Council or the public until after a developer was designated. The language we voted on today include two minor formalities correcting language, and one clarification that projects that have received Zoning Board of Appeals approvals but haven’t received permits for construction will be grandfathered in, which applies to particular projects near Copley Square.

The home-rule petition will now move to the Mayor for a signature and then to the state legislature for approval.

From Joe Larkin, principal at Millennium Boston:

First and foremost, we would like to thank the City Councilors for believing in this project and for understanding the many ways that it will benefit all of Boston.

Today’s Home Rule Petition vote marks an important step forward and is a remarkable win on multiple fronts.  Among the projected wide-reaching economic benefits, our parks and affordable housing will receive a critical influx of funds.  And having inspired a broad and unprecedented coalition of supporters from every corner of Boston, this project has brought our city closer together.

Looking ahead, we are hopeful that the State Legislature will join the City Councilors in supporting this vastly beneficial and transformative project.

Larkin recently presented 115 Winthrop Square to the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) in the video shown below.


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