Testimony at Hearing for House Bill 3749

Testimony of Leslie Singleton Adam, Board Chair, Friends of the Public Garden, to the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, regarding House Bill 3749

June 27, 2017

Good morning Chairmen Moore and O’Day, Vice Chairmen Timilty and Stanley, and members of the Committee.  My name is Leslie Singleton Adam, and I am here as Board Chair of the Friends of the Public Garden to testify on House Bill 3749, titled An Act Protecting Sunlight and Promoting Economic Development in the City of Boston.  While we are hesitant to take a formal position on the bill at this time, since we are engaged in discussions with the City of Boston and Millennium Partners on what we hope will be a mutually beneficial agreement that will protect our cherished downtown parks, I am here to offer some thoughts on the legislation and context about the issues it addresses.

First, I would like to provide some information on the history and mission of the Friends of the Public Garden. The Friends has worked in partnership with the City of Boston since 1970 to maintain, enhance, and advocate for the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. When we first came into existence in the 1970s, the parks were in total disrepair. Today they are national treasures and are the heart of the city.

We are in the parks daily, working as guardians and gardeners for 1,700 trees, 53 acres of grass, and conservators of 42 pieces of public art, including the world-famous George Washington, Shaw Memorial, and Make Way for Ducklings statues.  The Friends is able to invest more about $1.6 million annually directly into the parks to more than match the city’s annual appropriation through the Parks Department. With over 3,000 Members representing 133 communities in the Commonwealth, all of the funding for our work in the parks comes from private donations.

We care for the parks on a daily basis and work to restore the many fountains and statues that grace them. We raised $4.4 million to renovate Brewer Fountain Plaza near Park Street Station to bring it to life with tables and chairs, music, a reading room, and an active food truck program. And we raised $720,000 to restore and set up a maintenance fund for the famous ”Angel” fountain (George Robert White Memorial fountain) in the Garden to its former glory, bringing the water back after 30 years.

We come to this issue not as hobbyists, but as experts in horticulture and longtime partners with the City. We have raised legitimate issues regarding the impact of the shadows the Winthrop Square Building will cast on our landmark parks. 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. 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. Our goal is to minimize – or mitigate – the impact of the shadows and gain assurances about future exemptions from these laws.

We have been working closely with the Mayor and the BPDA, members of the City Council and the Boston legislative delegation – Reps. Jay Livingstone, Aaron Michlewitz and Byron Rushing and Sens. Will Brownsberger and Joe Boncore – and they have listened to our concerns. In this bill are assurances that the City will undertake a comprehensive downtown planning process – something we plan to be fully engaged in. Also in this bill is the elimination of the remaining approximately quarter acre of allowable shadow under the law in the so-called Shadow Bank.

We acknowledge that the City Council’s 10-3 vote was a clear statement of support, and that the Mayor is strongly supportive of this petition. However, the City consistently refers to this project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we plan to hold them to that. We will oppose any further encroachment of shadows on the city’s landmark parks. And we hope that, in its consideration of this bill, the Committee will make it clear to the City that you will not entertain further exemptions to these laws that have protected our parks for over two decades while allowing robust economic development downtown.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this important matter.



Elizabeth Vizza Statement on Winthrop Square Vote

Statement by Elizabeth Vizza, Executive Director of the Friends of the Public Garden on Boston City Council vote to approve shadow law exemptions for Winthrop Square tower.

April 26, 2017 – “The Council’s action today sets a precedent for future tradeoffs of money from developers for city approval of luxury skyscrapers that will cause damage to our landmark parks. It is naive to think that another developer won’t put millions of dollars on the table to entice the city into more exemptions to allow more shadows and cause more damage.

As stewards of the Boston Common and the Public Garden for the past 47 years, we have deep knowledge of the stresses on them. We find it disingenuous of the city to disregard our concerns and minimize the impact this building will have.

We support the revitalization of the Winthrop Square Garage site, but the proposed 775-foot skyscraper violates the shadow laws 264 days of the year on the Boston Common, and 120 days on the Public Garden.

The state’s shadow laws have worked for nearly three decades to strike an appropriate balance between allowing development to continue and protecting the Boston Common and the Public Garden. We will take our case to the State House to ensure this balance will not be jeopardized.”

Winthrop Square Shadows and Impacts on the Parks

Sunlight-Sensitive Park Resources and Shadow Impacts

  1. Sunlight-sensitive park resources are those resources which are dependent on sunlight to maintain the overall usability and/or health of a park space, whether it be for human activity or horticultural needs.
  1. As the city develops, the extent and duration of shadows cast increases. Direct sunlight exposure becomes all the more important as a resource for people and nature, particularly in the city’s central greenspaces, the Boston Common and Public Garden, which are used by millions of people each year as places to relax, gather with the community, walk to work, and recreate.
  1. In considering the impact of shadows on these parks, it is necessary to assess how they affect the growth cycle and sustainability of the parks’ natural features, as well as the comfort and enjoyment of their users.
  1. The issue of human use and comfort is particularly important during the cold winter months when there is less available sunlight, especially during morning and afternoon commuting hours, when thousands of people pass through these parks daily. Human-related sunlight-sensitive resources during the warm months include use of the wading pool at the Frog Pond in the Common and the lagoon and Swan Boats in the Garden.

Horticulture and Shadow Impacts

  1. Trees and turf need 4 – 6 hours of direct sunlight.
  1. Less sunlight = less photosynthesis = less energy for trees and turf to grow
  1. Full day and yearlong analysis of cumulative shadows show that the Common and Garden are under significant shadow pressure
  1. The Tremont and Boylston edges of the parks in particular experience significant shadow pressure
  1. When trees and turf are in the shadows of buildings, soil surface temperatures may not reach normal levels.
  1. A lag time in warmth, and a shaded condition that can keep soil wetter, favor disease development. This is a contributing factor in the root rot some trees have suffered in the Garden, and the decline and removal of trees in the Tremont/Boylston corner of the Common
  1. Shade impacts the success of seed growth, with colder soil temperatures slowing and shortening their growing period.
  1. Grass is less tolerant of shade than trees. It is easy to grow grass, and easy to kill grass.

Winthrop Square Home Rule Petition Boston City Council

An Act Protecting Sunlight and Promoting Economic Development in the City of Boston

ORDERED:  That a petition to the General Court, accompanied by a bill for a special law relating to the City of Boston to be filed with an attested copy of this Order be, and hereby is, approved under Clause One (1) of Section Eight (8) of Article Two (2), as amended, of the Amendments to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to the end that legislation be adopted precisely as follows, except for clerical or editorial changes of form only:


SECTION 1.  Subsection (b) of section 2 of chapter 362 of the Acts of 1990 is hereby amended by striking out the words “, subject to the one-acre exclusion set forth in the second sentence of subsection (c).”

SECTION 2.  Subsection (c) of section 2 of chapter 362 of the Acts of 1990 is hereby amended by striking out the second sentence thereof.

SECTION 3.  Section 2 of chapter 362 of the Acts of 1990 is hereby further amended by inserting after subsection (c) the following subsection:-

(d) Any structure located on property owned by the City of Boston on January first, two thousand and sixteen and located west of Federal Street, south of Franklin Street, east of Devonshire Street, and north of the intersection of High Street and Summer Street, which structure casts a new shadow upon the Boston Common for not more than two hours after the later of seven o’clock in the morning or the first hour after sunrise.

SECTION 4.  Section 2 of chapter 384 of the Acts of 1992 is hereby amended by striking out the word “or” in the last line of subsection (b).

SECTION 5.  Section 2 of chapter 384 of the Acts of 1992 is hereby further amended by striking out the period in the last line of subsection (c) and inserting in place thereof a semicolon and the word “or.”

SECTION 6.  Section 2 of chapter 384 of the Acts of 1992 is hereby further amended by inserting after subsection (c) the following subsection:-

(d) Any structure located on property owned by the City of Boston on January first, two thousand and sixteen and located west of Federal Street, south of Franklin Street, east of Devonshire Street, and north of the intersection of High Street and Summer Street, which structure casts a new shadow upon the Public Garden for not more than forty-five minutes after the later of seven o’clock in the morning or the first hour after sunrise.

SECTION 7. As used in section 7 and section 8 of this act the following words shall have the following meanings:

“Article 48,” Article 48 of the Boston Zoning Code as it existed on March first, two thousand and seventeen.

“New shadow,” the casting of a shadow at any time on an area which is not cast in shadow at such time by a structure which exists or for which a building permit has been granted on the date upon which application is made to the permit-granting authority for a proposed structure and which would not be cast in shadow by a structure conforming to as-of-right height limits allowed by the Boston Zoning Code as in force on March first, two thousand and seventeen. New shadow shall not include a de minimis shadow cast by an antenna, fence, flagpole, sign or other similar structure.

“Permit granting authority,” the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal, the Boston Zoning Commission, the Boston Redevelopment Authority or other public body authorized to grant permits or approvals pursuant to chapter 121A or chapter 121B of the General Laws, chapter 665 of the acts of 1956, as amended, of the Boston Zoning Code. Permit granting authority shall not include the Boston Inspectional Services Department, or any body or department succeeding in the duties thereof.

“Copley Square Park,” the land in the City of Boston bounded by Boylston Street, Clarendon Street, St. James Avenue, and Dartmouth Street, excluding land occupied by Trinity Church, and under the care, custody management and control of the city Parks and Recreation Commission.

“Structure,” a structure, as defined in the Massachusetts state building code, which is: (i) intended to be permanent; and (ii) not located within the boundaries of Copley Square Park.

SECTION 8. Notwithstanding any provisions of chapter 121A or chapter 121B of the General Laws, or chapter 665 of the acts of 1956, or any other general or special law to the contrary, no permit granting authority shall take any action which would authorize the construction of any structure within the Stuart Street District established by Article 48 which would cast a new shadow for more than two hours from eight o’clock in the morning through two-thirty in the afternoon on any day from March twenty-first to October twenty-first, inclusive, in any calendar year, on any area of Copley Square Park.

SECTION 9. The Boston Redevelopment Authority shall conduct a planning initiative for downtown Boston for an area including, but not limited to, the Midtown Cultural District established by Article 38 of the Boston Zoning Code and that area of the city known as the Financial District.  The initiative shall be conducted in partnership with the community to examine the preservation, enhancement, and growth of downtown Boston in order to balance growth with livability while respecting the importance of sunlight, walkability, and a dynamic mix of uses. The initiative shall culminate in a report that must include, but need not be limited to, recommendations concerning: development guidelines to facilitate predictable and appropriate development and community benefits; balancing area enhancement with the needs of existing residents, businesses and property owners; historic preservation; impacts of development on the environment, open space, and public realm, specifically including shadow impacts; and adaptability to the risks associated with climate change. The planning initiative shall commence within six months of the date of the passage of this act, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority shall publish the report on the planning initiative within three years from the passage of this act.

SECTION 10.  This act shall take effect upon its passage.


Make your voice heard: Contacting elected officials


Below is the list of emails (formatted so you can copy and paste) and phone numbers of the elected officials, City Councilors, and the Mayor.

Mayor Marty Walsh                          617-635-4500      mayor@boston.gov

State elected officials:

Byron Rushing 617-722-2783 byron.rushing@mahouse.gov
Joe Boncore 617-722-1634 joseph.boncore@masenate.gov
Aaron Michlewitz 617-722-2220 aaron.michlewitz@mahouse.gov
William Brownsberger 617-722-1280 william.brownsberger@masenate.gov
Jay Livingstone 617-722-2396 jay.livingstone@mahouse.gov

Boston City Councilors:

Michelle Wu 617-635-3115 michelle.wu@boston.gov
Frank Baker 617-635-3455 frank.baker@boston.gov
Andrea Campbell 617-635-3131 andrea.campbell@boston.gov
Mark Ciommo 617-635-3113 mark.ciommo@boston.gov
Annissa Essabi George 617-635-4376 a.e.george@boston.gov
Michael Flaherty 617-635-4205 michael.f.flaherty@boston.gov
Tito Jackson 617-635-3510 tito.jackson@boston.gov
Sal LaMattina 617-635-3200 salvatore.lamattina@cityofboston.gov
Bill Linehan 617-635-3203 bill.linehan@cityofboston.gov
Timothy McCarthy 617-635-4210 timothy.mccarthy@boston.gov
Matt O’Malley 617-635-4220 matthew.omalley@boston.gov
Ayanna Pressley 617-635-4217 ayanna.pressley@boston.gov
Josh Zakim 617-635-4225 josh.zakim@boston.gov


Shadow Legislation Summary

Downloadable Copy: Shadow Legislation Summary.pdf


Shadow Legislation Summary

Two State laws in place for the past quarter of a century have effectively protected Boston’s signature public parks from excessive shadowing, while still allowing for robust downtown development. The Friends of the Public Garden steadfastly supports these effective laws and opposes any erosion of these protections.

Boston Common Shadow Law (Ch. 362, 1990)

●   This State law restricts new shadows on the Common to the first hour after sunrise or 7:00 a.m. (whichever is later) or the last hour before sunset, with different exemptions for buildings in the Midtown Cultural District, which lies east and south of the Common and Garden (see the attached plan).

Continue reading “Shadow Legislation Summary”