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City Council approves $153-million deal for Winthrop Square project; now goes to state legislature

Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan

Linehan makes his case.

The City Council voted 10-3 to approve a plan in which Millennium Partners would pay the city $153 million to buy the condemned Winthrop Square garage and replace it with a $1-billion tower that could reach 775 feet in height.

The deal - opposed by councilors Jackson, Zakim and Wu - requires an act of the legislature because the building would violate a current state law banning shadows on the Boston Common.

The measure approved by the council asks the legislature for changes in state law that would allow the building, ban further shadows from downtown structures on the Common and the Public Garden, enact some shadow protections for Copley Square and require the Boston Planning and Development Agency to live up to the first part of its name and study future development downtown.

Millennium Partners would pay Boston a little more than $100 million up front in exchange for the garage and then pay the rest out as it sold condos in the building.

"I am confident that this deal is one of the strongest deals that has ever been crafted for the city of Boston," Councilor Bill Linehan (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, Downtown) said. Linehan said the deal would not only mean payments that would be put to good use but would mean $12 million a year in new annual tax payments as well as thousands of construction and permanent jobs and additional payments toward affordable housing in Chinatown and workforce development. And it would rid the city of a concrete eyesore now used for "illicit, illegal and unsavory activities." All that for some shadows that, even on the worst days would mean "minimal impact" on the Common - and only then before 9:30 a.m.

Councilor Josh Zakim (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway, Mission Hill) said he could not vote for a project that has involved "pitting neighbors and against neighbors, park against park." And he said the BPDA and Millennium Partners had turned the whole thing into an "all or nothing proposal" that made it difficult for him and parks advocates to really evaluate the proposal. He said that the current shadow law obviously has not slowed development in Boston and that the proposed shadow protections for Copley Square might be "very illusory" because they would exempt several projects that have been approved but not yet started.

Councilor Tito Jackson (Roxbury), as he has done before, blasted the deal and the BPDA, in part for essentially creating new policy based on a single building project. And he accused the administration and the BPDA of selling "the soul of Boston" for money.

He said he does not understand how the BPDA failed to realize before it requested bids that there might be issues at the site with shadows and with FAA height requirements for buildings near Logan Airport. "They don't even plan before they develop," despite their new name, he said, adding that even when it was still the BRA, the authority tried to sell off the parcel before even talking to the council, summing up the whole process as "mistake after mistake, lack of transparency after lack of transparency."

He added that he's amazed that in a deal that's supposed to be all about "inclusion," Millennium Partners doesn't have a single equity partner who is a person of color or a woman.

Councilor Sal LaMattina (North End, East Boston, Charlestown) said the BPDA came up with the best possible deal for the city and said he would not want to delay Millennium Partners' work, because that could mean "we have another eyesore for decades."

And he said the payments will transform the lives of people now living in decaying apartments at Orient Heights.

LaMattina at first denied he was "selling his soul," but then continued, "I will sell my soul so poor people can live in decent housing. ... Yes, I sold my soul but guess what? I'm going to sleep better" because poor residents will have decent apartments.

Councilor Ayanna Pressley (at large), said the deal means "a rare opportunity" to improve parks and low-income housing - as well as a chance to really ensure a major project that will try for a construction workforce that is at least half Boston residents, half minority and half women. She added, "this is not a period, full stop; it's a comma" because the city still has ways to go to become fully inclusionary. She called on councilors to avoid the "self-righteous indignation" plaguing the rest of the country and do even more towards an equitable society.

Councilor Andrea Campbell (Dorchester) also raised the issue of equity in voting for the project. She said most of her constituents who have contacted her supported the proposal, because it would mean more money for Franklin Park and more chances for construction jobs. Many, she said, feel "we don't get what the residents of West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Beacon Hill, the South End, the Back Bay get" when it comes to parks, schools, housing and other city services.

Campbell acknowledged opponents have "legitimate reasons" for opposing a deal because key parts of it were negotiated behind closed doors and said the process should be "a learning lesson for all of us" to be open from the beginning.

Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury), started by saying he would pit his park advocacy against anybody's, before saying the benefits of the deal far outweight the shadows.

And he said the deal is not setting a precedent because there are no other decaying city properties, save mayby City Hall Plaza, that could be traded for an infusion of cash. "There's no Pandora's Box," he said, calling the deal "aboslutely transormational" for both the two parks and the people in the two housing developments. "$25 million or $28 million for Franklin Park will be absolutely amazing," he said, adding he could think of no better way of celebrating Emerald Necklace builder Frederick Law Olmsted's 195th birthday today than voting in favor.

Other councilors did not speak on the merits of the proposal.

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Comments

How can we get the names of the 10 people that voted against one of the oldest parks on this land?

absolutely shameful...

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It's everybody on the council except Wu, Jackson and Zakim, so:

Baker, Campbell, Ciommo, Essaibi-George, Flaherty, LaMattina, Linehan, McCarthy, O'Malley, Pressley.

Darn, I left a couple out and had to go look 'em up :-).

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How about learning who is on the Boston City Council.

Fuckin' yuppies.

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Not surprised, a little saddened. Everything is available to the highest bidder, existing laws be damned.

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I wish Wu would run for Mayor.

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Yes, Council President Michelle Wu would be a great Mayor!... even though the City Stenographer Stenographic Record of Public Meetings in the Council Chamber of Boston City Council is out of reach for ESL English Second Language folks, out of reach for hard of hearing folks, out of reach for all. Imagine an open Boston City Council without the offputting practices, and Public Documents easily available by email or posted at http://boston.gov

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would love to know more of the background on this from Brian Golden - did the BPDA think if they conned the city into believing the land was worth $40 million - they could pocket the balance (which is now over $100 million) - from the link in Adam's post:

Under questioning from councilors, Golden could not say how much the city might net from the sale of the 175 Federal St. garage, although he said it would likely be "tens of millions of dollars." Eventually, he speculated that might mean $40 million.

How are you off by a factor of four when this is supposedly your area of expertise - and the city is hiring you to handle the transaction because of that expertise.

(I did a back of the envelope calculation and came up with $250-$300 million depending on what got approved - if you add the land cost, the cost of including 15% affordable housing on site and I think there may be another $25 million for affordable housing in Chinatown it comes to about $250-$275 million total acquisition cost. Dear city council - next time you are selling city land - call me instead of the BPDA)

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It'd be great if the legislature said no, but then said, $150mm is one third of one percent of the state's annual budget, here's a check, fix up your parks.

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?

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mentioned Franklin Field, a housing project in Dorchester. That involves the housing component to the bill.

The park side of the bill targets Franklin Park as well as Boston Common, Public Garden, and completing the Emerald Necklace beyond Franklin Part down Columbia Road.

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Yes, I sold my soul but guess what? I'm going to sleep better" because poor residents will have decent apartments.

I usually rank on LaMattina, but I give him props this time for putting his constituents needs first.

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How many of La Mattina's constituents will "win" affordable units in the new building? A half dozen, maybe? The rest of his constituents get diddly squat.

Then, 10 years later when the affordable units are mostly resold, the new owners will be a collection of trust fund kids and surgical residents - people with low enough salary to meet the income limits, but with enough backing to get an unconditional mortgage to guarantee a quick close.

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A chunk of the affordable housing funds from this project will go toward fixing up existing Boston Housing Authority developments - $10M to Orient Heights in East Boston. So those are hundreds of existing residents of public housing that will benefit from this. For new affordable housing, there is always rigorous lottery process scrutinized by a bunch of agencies. Also, in Boston, affordability restrictions even for condos/ownership units are a lot longer than 10 years. Not sure where you are getting your (mis)information.

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Millennium Partners will pay the city $153 million just to buy the garage. The mayor has promised to spend a good amount of that to fix up two specific BHA projects - Old Colony and Orient Heights (with the rest going to fix up the Common and Franklin Park). These are not "affordable" units - these are traditional BHA low-income units.

On top of that, there's a separate requirement that applies to all large residential projects in the city: That the developer either set aside a certain percentage of the units to be rented or sold (in this case sold) as "affordable" or pay the BPDA the equivalent sum of money for a fund it uses to develop affordable units off site. The purchase price of the garage isn't in place of this, but in addition to it. I heard talk at the hearing earlier this week of money going specifically towards affordable housing in Chinatown. Apologies - I can never remember the exact number of units, but it's at least 13% of the units or an equivalent amount (the developer is also putting money into a workforce-training fund the BPDA has).

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... presented all the wonders to be in Winthrop Square, I learned that the offsite building along the highway in Chinatown where they will hide the affordable units will not have any of the perks or green features (state of the art HVAC, rooftop gardens) of the glamorous glass tower. Nor will the residents of the Chinatown building have access to the tower other than the lobby.

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Covenants last ~80 years, but most affordable condos in Boston get bought by people who eventually move. You can expect half to sell their units within 10 years. When an owner resells a unit in a good location, they will get a couple of dozen offers. The differentiating factor for sellers is buyers who are preapproved for a mortgage with no conditions. Those are people that a bank (or alternately, mom and dad who own the penthouse upstairs) are very eager to give a loan to.

Where do I get my information? Firsthand experience. Where do you get yours?

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in the last 2 years. I am not complaining, but I guess I missed the detail on why. Is this part of prop 2 1/2 that means that the total taxes can only go up by 2.5%? I've made that assumption and guess that so much new Real Estate has been added to the tax base that it requires the tax on individual properties go down. If I am correct, adding 1 billion to the tax base should benefit all property owners in the city. But not really increase the funds available for schools, parks, and roads.

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First - basically they figure out how much the businesses will pay in taxes and the residents make up the rest. Two years ago, residents paid 39.3% of the levy - now we pay 38.6% because commercial values have been propped up by low interest rates - with interest rates rising - that trend will likely reverse over the next few years - but only God knows how fast. Thank Janet Yellen and her friends at the Fed and pray she stays in charge as the one of the doviest of interest rate doves in the nation.

Second - they increased the residential exemption - so, depending on how the formulas work out - it's possible you are one of the rare actual beneficiaries of this change (probably only about 20-25% of residential properties actually got a tax reduction as a result of the formulas - although the actual value of that is far less than the number you see taken off your taxes - too long to explain - but that's the way the math works.

Finally - hate to say it - but it's probably because properties in other parts of the city are going up in value faster than yours. Yours may be going up - but if other properties go up faster they "own a bigger piece of the pie" and therefore have to pay more for their pie.

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You're not alone - our taxes have gone down over the past couple years as well. The 2.5% limit is citywide, not for a specific property, so if values in South Boston and JP go stratospheric, and yours don't - they'll pay more in taxes and you'll pay less.

In our case, it might suck if we were planning to sell in the next couple of years, because it basically means we're not going to get rich off our house (especially since we can't advertise it as a tear-down special - nobody's buying single-family homes in our neck of the woods and replacing them with four-story condo buildings). But since we bought our house as a place to live and not an investment, hey, it's nice to see our escrow payments go down.

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A sad day for parking garage enthusiasts.

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As if people were totally concerned about the preserving garage, and not the size of the new development and the park.

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I know they're just parking garage enthusiasts, but it's never polite to discount the feelings of others.

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The post said, as if, meaning it's not true.

Too bad you don't care about preserving an old park just because you think a tiny one time fee is more important.

Simple planning lacking nuance.

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Inject race into EVERY topic. You could serve the guy potato salad and he's find a way to include race.

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Yes, like other councilors, he brought up the equity issue and Millennium Partners' failure to meet even the voluntary standards for its other projects on minority hiring. But he also raised issues that, really, have nothing to do with race, like how, at least in his opinion, the BPDA has screwed up the process and how this deal sets a bad precedent in general.

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You know what would be absolutely transformational? If this gang had an ounce of financial sense.

$30 million is absolutely "transformational"? Next year's budget is increasing by $144 million (which means it will really be north of $160 or $170 million as long as state aid doesn't get cut)

It would cost about $1.5 million a year including interest and principal for the city to float a $30 million bond for the parks - that's 1% of one year's revenue increase for the parks or 5/100ths of one percent of the budget (which would decrease each year as the budget goes up).

Somebody tell La Mattina he sold his soul for 5 basis points - although I'm not sure he or anybody else in this august body knows what a basis point is.

Morons.

Oh - and they increased our taxes $20 million last year to pay for all these exact same things.

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I literally cannot stand the people against this proposal. Tito Jackson is an absolute joke.

You're afraid that a shadow will appear on the Common for a few minutes in the morning? GASP!!!!!

You want to build a tall building in a CITY??? HOW DARE THEY!

These people are insane. I hope this gets approved. Start building already! New development and new jobs are a GOOD thing.

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If anybody was complaining at length about the shadow, it was Zakim, and more at the hearing the other day. Jackson's real issue had more to do with the process that got us to this point, starting a couple years ago when, yes, the BRA tried to sell the garage without telling anybody on the council and to keep the money for itself - and was only stopped when Shirley Kressel began complaining (and although she didn't say anything today, the other day, Wu made it pretty clear it was the process that bothered her; for that matter, even Zakim brought that up as well).

You may disagree with him there, as well, but making him into a cartoon villain is way oversimplistic.

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Nobody is saying don't build a tall building. They are just saying that we have zoning and building laws for a reason (in this case decades old environmental protections designed to keep future greedy developers and politicians from causing damage to the oldest public park in the country - that has had a variety of laws set up to protect it for about 3 centuries).

If you read about some of the testimony, you would have heard that the shadows come at the worst time of the day for the plant life in an already damaged corner of the park.

The argument has nothing to do with "don't build a tall building" - it's simply that it doesn't have to be that tall.

Or maybe we should just solve it once and for all - we live in a city - maybe everywhere from Mattapan to Brighton to Charlestown to Eastie should just be zoned 1000 feet?

(and by the way - it's also illegal to zone a single parcel of land - it's called spot zoning - although the BPDA just does it and calls it something else and somehow gets around the law - although maybe this will be a test case in which case the property might get tied up for another 5-10 years).

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If you read about some of the testimony and looked at the shadow videos, you'd see that the already damaged corner of the park (Boylston & Tremont) is not impacted in any way by new shadows. That corner will get the same amount of sun and shade regardless of the proposal.

Deb Howe was saying that morning and evening sunlight most impacts plant life in general. She wasn't saying that the Boylston & Tremont corner would be further damaged, just that morning and evening shadows do the most harm.

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n/t

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"Get a grip"? The commenter said he literally cannot stand. We should be assisting him to sit down.

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They are putting the building there to look out over the trees and grass they are going to kill.

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I am a raving enthusiast for urbanism, but even I know the difference between development and skyscraper porn. If the surrounding buildings are doing just fine, financially, with 500-600 ft towers, then so to can this one. I'm not willing to let someone go crazy just so they can earn 2 bizillion dollars instead of 1 bizillion dollars.

And the areas of Boston that actually need development are not downtown, but rather the outlier areas where property costs are low enough to support moderate income housing development.

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I'm happy the vote was overwhelmingly in favor, as it should have been.

Maybe Jackson would have supported this if the money was going to a better cause, like paying off street criminals.

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White collar criminals posing as public servants, would not surprise me.

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Remarks of Councilors
http://bostoncitycouncilcaptions.blogspot.com/

For example...

"... All 13 of us I think asked awful
questions at the hearing yesterday. At least in the three-plus years
that I've been there, which shows the interest across the city, across
the region amongst the people sitting around the chamber right
now. All of the causes, affordable housing development, green space,
parks, the Boston commons, everywhere this money has been earmarked
are worthy causes. They're important. But the fact that we've been
pitting neighbors against neighbors, park against park, people in this
city who all care about the same things against each other, there's a
major flaw in this process. Instead of fighting for a little piece
here, a little piece there, it's our obligation to looking to expand
the pie so we all get a bigger piece of the pie. We need to be
advocating for more of these important resources on a daily basis and
looking at the way it impacts us today and into the future. I think
the fact that this is sort of -- was discussed at the hearing
yesterday, the process has seemed tangled. Bits and pieces of
information coming out has made it difficult. The fact that we've been
presented why an all or nothing proposal by the developer and by the
bpa has made it difficult for folks like myself, for many of the
people that have been interested in providing resources for all of
these possible policies, have been interested in redeveloping. But
this proposal in front of us, we have no choice but to oppose this for
our parks, the green spaces and for the precedence this sets. We have
not slowed development in the city of Boston. We see it every year in
the budget process. Growth continues in the city. That's a good
thing. I don't think anyone who is talking about this development. I'd
like to talk about the fact that we're booing to be protecting the
square is important. Protecting encrotchment from additional shadows
is incredibly important. But some of the changes that have been put in
the language raise a flag for me. Quite a bit has been permitted. I
think some of these are very loose and it's worth exploring more. It
was discussed at the hearing, but I'm still unclear on what
protections are in place. If we're going to be talking about trading
shadow for shadow, that is important. I love a few blocks from the
square. It's a park that needs some tlc. Anything that we can do to
improve that is important. Let me close by saying I appreciate the
advocacy. Many of my constituents and neighbors are here today and
were hear at the hearing and the fact that while we disagree, the fact
a developer did go to every neighborhood I think every community
group, every place to answer questions. Many still disagree and I said
I will vote against it. It's not the right decision right now for our
community. I look forward to working with everyone around this chamber
and in the administration, the bra and the folks here in the gallery
to make sure we're moving in a way that will be binding for
everyone. We're going to be funding our parks and affordable housing
needs and education across the city." --Councilor Zakim

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Bostons tallest building in Winthrop Sq , do we need more rich people living at these luxury skyscrapers, turning Boston into a Mecca for the rich.. Shame on the city of Boston for selling garage/ land for $153m why can't the city build a large center for the homeless on that land. Or a much needed new city hall.

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As long as you pay for it.

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Talk about wasteful spending, yesterday I saw a city of Boston employee driving a brand new white 2017 Jeep Cherokee with a City of Boston seal on both doors , you are telling me the city of Boston has a fleet of these trucks with a cost of $35k a pop, why can't they purchase a fleet of 2 seater smart cars which cost under $15k .

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to sell my house to some unsuspecting Yuppie from out of state, move out of this City and let these corrupt politicians continue to sell their souls.

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Why wait? The market is in your favor and will probably start leveling off/dipping soon.

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One city - to the highest bidder.

Just wish the elected officials actually cared about those who elect them. : (

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An important journalistic service would be to keep some light shining on the question of how much the BPDA will pocket out of the deal. There's a lot of slop in vague language about 'reasonable consulting fees' and the like.

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