Deal to allow tower in Winthrop Square: Glorious windfall for city parks and housing projects or Faustian bargain?

A divided City Council could vote Wednesday on a plan to let a proposed $1-billion, 750-foot tower rise on the site of a condemned city garage in Winthrop Square in exchange for a $153 million sale price proponents would go to much needed renovation work on Boston Common, in Franklin Park and at the Old Colony and Orient Heights house developments, but which opponents say would open the city to even more problems with developers with lots of money.

Proponents, who include Mayor Walsh and the BPDA, are seeking a change in state law that would exempt the tower from a ban on shadows on the Common and the Public Garden. Their proposed request to the state legislature would include a ban on further Common shadow-casting buildings downtown, a detailed planning study of the "Midtown Cultural District" - basically Downtown Crossing and the Financial District - and restrictions on buildings that might cast shadows on Copley Square park.

And Millennium Partners would agree to hiring large numbers of Boston residents, minorities and women to work on the project in addition to the base purchase price, proponents say.

City Councilor Bill Linehan, who supports the idea, says he still can't believe Millennium proposed paying the city so much money - some %50 million more than other bidders for the parcel. "This is the best deal for Boston," he said.

Opponents, who include the Friends of the Public Garden and the Boston Preservation Alliance, said that the shade from the building would only make conditions on the Common, where some trees and grass are already ailing due to insufficient sunlight, worse. Councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson accused the BPDA and the current administration of selling out the city's future, by setting a precedent for spot zoning that would let other developers with a lot of cash sprinkle it around and get whatever they want.

Other councilors who raised questions - Michelle Wu and Josh Zakim - said they were also troubled by the precedent and the either/or scenario the mayor was painting - that they have to approve this deal or else the city gets nothing from the site, even though five other developers also submitted proposals.

At a long and crowded hearing, supporters, opponents and councilors with questions alternated in discussing the proposal.

City Parks Commissioner Chris Cook said the $56 million that would be split between the Common and Franklin Park would let the city do badly needed repairs and renovations to both parks, to such an extent that any minimal shadow issues on the Common would be more than made up through plants and fields made healthier through better care.

He said Franklin Park has not seen such an investment since the city assembled the land for it in the 19th century.

And he said the city could use the money to leverage even more investments in the 500-acre park by philanthropists. In the past, he said, nobody's wanted to pay for anything at Franklin Park because it was so obvious the city couldn't afford to maintain whatever they paid for.

BHA Administrator Bill McGonagle painted a dire picture: Without the money from the sale of the garage, and in an era when the federal government is stopping investments in public housing, already dilapidated apartments at Old Colony and Orient Heights will continue to fall apart and will eventually have to be shut altogether.

But Deb Howe, a landscape architect for the Friends of the Public Garden - which also oversees the Common and the Commmonwealth Avenue Mall - said that one part of the Common, by Boylston and Tremont, is already in so much shade that cherry trees recently had to be pulled out and the grass is in bad shape because it doesn't get enough sun.

Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, said he found it "honestly shocking" that the BPDA says it would only do a comprehensive study of land use downtown if the bill passes, because that's just the sort of thing it should be doing anyway, what with "Planning" being in its name and all. And he said the proposal sets a bad precedent on a slippery slope - in the future, what if a developer proposes a billion-dollar complex right on the Common? How could the city resist the lure?

"The city is being blinded by a pot of gold," he said. "As in fairy tales chasing it always leads to bad consequences. Don't be taken in."

Jackson objected to the "false sense of urgency" created by the BPDA to get the council to pass a formal request to the state legislaure for a change in the shadow law. "We are selling our soul to the highest bidder and that is absolutely unacceptable."

BPDA Executive Director Brian Golden said the authority would never do that, that he opposes adding more shadows to city parks and that the only reason he supports the Millennium Proposal and what he said was a minimal, brief shadow in the morning, was because of how much money the project will mean for residents across the city. He said there are no other parcels owned by the city or the BPDA downtown where that could happen again.

John Larkin, a principal at Millennium Partners, said the project would be fundamentally different from the company's other Boston buildings - such as the Millenium Tower where Filene's used to be - because the company realizes it has to spread the wealth around the entire city.

"You can't have a healthy downtown without a healthy Roxbury, I really believe that," he said, adding the reason Millennium was willing to pay so much more for the garage than other developers was because "we are really bullish on the city of Boston."

He urged councilors to think of the $153 million as just the start of an engine that would also mean more than $12 million in annual tax payments, nearly 3,000 construction jobs and 2,700 permanent jobs. In total, he said, the building could mean $600 million to $700 million in additional "multiplier" revenue for the city and its residents.

Under questioning from Jackson, Larkin acknowledged the company missed its minority, women and Boston-resident hiring goals for Millennium Tower. While the company would face no penalties from the city for missing its pledged goals of ensuring at least 51% of construction jobs went to Boston residents - and 50% to people of color and 50% to women - Larkin insisted the company is already taking steps to meet those numbers.

Larkin said Millennium would be willing to relax CORI checks for otherwise qualified workers - and to add penalties of its own to agreements with subcontractors to ensure they hire locally and among people who don't traditionally get hired in Boston.

Councilors Andrea Campbell and Ayanna Pressley raised "equity" issues as well, especially given the city's history of seeming to give priority to issues downtown.

Under questioning from Zakim, Larkin said the company could not really shorten its proposed building much, even if the city agreed to give up some of the payment for the garage in exchange. He said this is because the bulk of the building's expenses comes in the basic infrastructure in the lower floors of the structure - removing several floors from the top would force the company to raise rents and condo prices to possibly unmarketable levels.

In addition to BPDA approval, the tower will also need approval from the FAA, which takes a dim view of really tall structures just across the harbor from Logan Airport. In fact, Golden used that fact to show the building is already somewhat of a compromise - because Tom Menino's original concept, a decade ago, was for a 1,000-foot skyscraper.

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Comments

Why bother voting? The BRA is

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Why bother voting? The BRA is going to do whatever it wants and find some favorable judge to reinterpret the law as it sees fit.

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The BRA can't if the state legislature says no

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The same was said about running an interstate through JP. An interstate that would have ended any possibility of JP turning into a neighborhood that puts plenty of money into the city coffers.

The interstate didn't go through and the city gets a lot more money from property taxes due to people wanting to live in a green neighborhood, as opposed to people avoiding a neighborhood scarred with an interstate.

Many folks said the same thing about the Olympics. The mayor and construction companies wanted the Olympics. It didn't happen.

Granted the BRA is an extra governmental agency that is powerful. It is ironic that in a region where taxation without representation was a slogan that there is now a extra governmental agency where the citizenry has no representation. The BRA, or after its $3/4 million name change, has the power to take away a persons home with eminent domain and can effectively make legal decisions about land use, with no regard for the voters and residents of Boston. It's as though Boston is once again ruled from afar by a Parliament that is not elected by the people who live here and which has no regard for the people who live here. But even the British Parliament failed in its attempt to subordinate Bostonians. So I don't think this skyscraper which will harm the Common and the Public Garden is a fait accompli.

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failed bid process

Golden said the RFP was clear that bids had to comply with state law. Millennium Partners 750-foot proposal bid does not.

He also claimed he was unaware of shadow law but that some people at BRA probably were aware of it.

So how did Millennium Partners 750-foot proposal win if it doesn't comply with state law?

And if BRA is going to accept Millennium Partners bid because it was the highest, then why shouldn't other interested developers be allowed to bid for the property with a 750-foot proposal that also doesn't comply with state law?

When you rely on a market mechanism to deliver the best value for the public, all participants have to given the opportunity to bid on the same project scope. If we got only one bid for a 750-foot tower we really don't know if it's a good price or not for a 750-foot tower we only know it's a better price than the bids that bid for a smaller project that complies with state shadow law.

Mayor Walsh serves up another sh*t sandwich with BRA as sous chef.

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Huh?

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All of the other proposals were in the 750ft range.

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Meaning

Nothing. Then those bids were also not conforming or responsive. Throw them all out.

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The six bids were all in good

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The six bids were all in good faith. Most were at the $50-75 million mark, with only HYM coming close to Millennium at $100 million. This process was open to the public and has been ongoing for years. Sorry that you are not just paying attention to it. If it goes back out to bid, that would be years more of delay, and would probably miss the current boom cycle, meaning we get the loving condemned garage for another decade. Gotta love all of that lost property tax, right Swirls? Everything was done under the same criteria set forth by the City/BPDA. The 725' height limit (which is what this will be scaled down to) is from both zoning and the FAA - even Menino put out bids here for a 1,000'.

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audit the bid process. protect taxpayers from liability

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Brian Golding admitted at Monday's hearing that BPDA would have done things differently if he had known about the shadow law. The argument that all bidders were bidding on the project of the same scope is simply false.

Arguing that there's something common about the problems with this bid process because of Tom Menino is like the Trump administration claiming whatever they've done is reasonable because of the Obama administration.

Finally, the "winning" bid is self-evidently not on compliance with state law and that is a requirement set forth in the written solicitation.

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How did he not know?

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That law has been in place for decades AND it is his JOB to know.

None of those bids are conforming if they don't follow the law anyway, because any developer should do their freaking homework.

Too many excuses for a pack of losers, here. You don't need "don't run red light" signs at every intersection. And there are few signs warning you about how much to drink - and yet people get cited for these things.

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Good faith?

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Sorry, but "good faith" means DOING YOUR HOMEWORK. Good faith means having someone check the ZONING REGS. Good faith means COMPLYING WITH LAWS.

None of these bids are in good faith if they didn't bother to do some basic legwork required of college students to get their degrees.

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.

.

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Poo, indeed

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a $153 million sale price propoonents would go to much needed renovation work

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Fixed

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Thanks.

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Can any of our city officials do middle school math?

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A one time payment of $156 million? Lets assume it was zero and all we were getting was $9 million in additional property tax on a smaller project. At today's rates you could easily float a bond and finance $156 million just on the incremental property taxes. But even permitting a smaller building we'd still clear like $100 million .

Why is anyone considering rewriting an environmental law that has worked for decades over a one time windfall that would generate an incremental sum that's less than 2% of the budget?

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I am curious about your math;

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I am curious about your math; How do you go from the currently proposed $12 millions in annual real estate taxes to $21 million (an additional $9 million by your calculation) with a smaller project?

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I don't

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That's not an additional. I'm just saying if we permit a smaller project we only get say $9 million in taxes instead of 12 million and even that could fund a $153 million bond.

One other thing people should realize - the BPDA is fighting for this and other projects like the restaurant on Long Wharf because that's how they fund themselves. They take a piece of the action on all these deals.

I believe the city actually owned the garage, transferred it to the BPDA for a song and gave them huge leverage on getting a piece of the sale price. The city won't net $153 million. My understanding is a large chunk comes off the top to the BPDA in consulting fees.

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Source?

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Any source for the BPDA taking a large chunk of it? Every break down I have seen of how the new funds are earmarked put it going to the City.

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Check out the take on a typical BPDA project

They say now that the city will get money for stuff.

The reality is that such earmarks aren't durable in MA.

See also: other BPDA promises in history; tobacco lawsuit earmarks, etc.

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Right.

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So no source or anything. I am also well aware of the history of the BPDA née BRA.

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Tobacco lawsuit money

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Supposed to go for tobacco education and ad campaigns, but looted for the general fund.

Because there are no earmarks in MA. It all goes to general fund.

Learn how our government works, dear.

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You want sources?

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City Charter of Boston
State Constitution

Those are the sources.

Money goes into a big pot, gets approved for uses by the city/state.

Nobody gets to say "we're giving money for this or that" - its all one big amorphous bribe that will NEVER be spent where they claim it will.

What state did you come here from?

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Transfer Docs

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As you see, the city, which used to own this property, isn't handling the sale. They transferred it to the BRA because apparently among the 17,000 city employees, nobody is competent enough to handle a large real estate transaction. This was related to me by a usually reliable source that the transfer deal included the ability of the BPDA to assess a very ambiguous "reasonable" consulting fee for handling the transaction.

My guess is - sure the city will divvy up the $153 million - and then pay the BPDA out of some deep dark fund where they store their $1 billion (plus?) of reserves. That was how Menino did these things anyway (for example - did you know that parking revenue goes into an off balance sheet trust fund and they withdraw what they need at the end of the year to help balance the budget?)

Per Adam's note below - this deal is getting worse. It's $100 million now and $53 million in "commissions" later (which if the market tanks - I can easily see Millennium trying to renegotiate and put the risk of a market downturn back on the city).

I believe the other offers were in the $100 million range - but all for smaller buildings as others have noted. So we are getting the same from everyone - and some "juice" from Millennium - maybe.

Is this a fair price? Their own numbers indicate it's a $1 billion project (which usually reflects the ultimate sale value of the property - not construction costs). That means that land is 15% of the deal - which seems awfully low - but there are way too many unknowns to figure this out entirely - and remember - the affordable housing cost component is probably about $100 - 150 million as well (15% of the units typically have to be affordable). That's not a free lunch. The developers factor that in to the bid -no affordable housing means another $100 million that could go to the BHA rather than the lucky lottery winners that get to live in a multimillion dollar condo for a few thousand dollars a month.

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Worse?

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This was the deal from the beginning, nothing has changed. It was always a straight payment for the first 100 million with basically a profit sharing for the remaining 1/3 with the City. The base offer was still above any of the other developers. It also includes $25 million for affordable housing in Chinatown. Here are the bids:

Accordia Partners: 725', $50 million
Lendlease: 725', $60.5 million
Trinity: 725', $60.5 million
Trans National: Dual 725' towers, $75 million
HYM: 725', $100 million

So, yeah, well above all but HYM, except we would lose out on the profit sharing of condo sales for another $50 million, plus the additional $25million for affordable housing in Chinatown and other items (although I would guess most would have kicked in something for that). Millennium's bid was only 25' over for substantially more money, and, in the end, 725' is what it will be anyways due to the FAA limit at the site anyways. When it comes to proposals one generally asks for the moon and stars to get what they realistically want. As for the market tanking - sure, maybe if we hold it up another few years, but we just had another record sale at the new Four Seasons tower, which broke the previous record at the sold out Millennium Tower. This thing will be sold well before it is ever completed.

For the rest of it - $150 million sounds about right as it was an open bid and none of the other 5 came close to it. Everyone else seemed to value it in the sub-$100 million range. There is an entire concrete bunker that needs to be demolished on the land (plus remediation I would guess), which isn't cheap.

Also in your cost calculations don't forget that we have already lost about 10 years on this project, which, from this article would have been ~ $120 million @ the $12million a year in property tax income from it, and the longer it sits vacant the more we continue to lose.

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I actually 85% agree with you

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I think this property should have been built on years ago (all kinds of shenanigans) - but that's a sunk cost and nothing you can do about it.

I'm perfectly happy building a property that doesn't violate the shadow laws (50-100 feet lower?).

In the grand scheme of things - I'm not in favor of selling out to get an extra $50 million in Boston's coffers - as I've written extensively out here - Boston is swimming in money and there's no need to sell our birthright. $50 million amid a $3 billion municipal budget amortized over say a 30 year time frame doesn't even register on the meter for a change of this scale - which we know will be a giant invitation to incrementalism.

Sell the land for $100 million - put up a 650 foot tower and be done with it.

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Yeah, I mean I don't see this

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Yeah, I mean I don't see this going over 725' anyways, something around 600-650 wouldn't be the end of the world. I just want something built, and I think if they have to start from 0 again with the bidding process we might see it fall out of the current cycle to come back up again in 10 years - basically the South Station Tower Part 2, except at least there we have South Station and not a condemned garage :) I also think that the whole grand deal being put forward is kind of crazy - to get this one building we are agreeing to no more shadows at all on the Common and Copley Square (which doesn't currently have shadow laws) - seems pretty short sited. That said, a 1.5 hour long moving shadow in the fall/winter months doesn't seem like the end of the world either.

The City et all should come up with a comprehensive zoning plan for downtown/the financial district that allows height while taking into account everything else instead of this piece wise bullshit.

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Now I agree 100%

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This piece wise crap has to come to an end and we need comprehensive zoning.

BUT, exceptions should be just that, exceptions.

BUT, BUT I'm not holding my breath because then it becomes almost impossible for politicians and the mayor to extort "concessions" from the developers.

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A bit more complicated

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Sorry for leaving this detail out: Millennium would pay about $100 million up front, then pay out the rest as condos are sold.

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Nice coverage. With

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Nice coverage. With millennium willing to pay 50% more for the land than the next guy, the public benefits of this development far outweigh the small additional amount of early morning shade being cast on the Common. I’d love to hear the naysayers tell us where else they would find $56 million to fix Franklin Park and the Boston Common.

Boston Globe 2-26-17: "The new shadow would move across the parks quickly and vanish by 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 10, when, by Millennium’s calculations, the shadows would be longest."

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With all the concern over sun

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With all the concern over sun exposure and skin cancer, the city shouldn't be concerned over shadows. They will help the residents stay protected from the sun. Not sure what the big deal is over shadows.
Corruption at the BRA, however...

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Sun exposure?

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This is Boston, pal, we see the sun for 11 1/2 hours a year

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Funny but not true

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A typical day in Boston is partly cloudy or sunny (glass half full or empty). Being next to the Atlantic Ocean we can obviously get overcast skies.

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Cool, pal - so we should just

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Cool, pal - so we should just get rid of the shadow law if we never see the sun.

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The big deal about these shadows

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The testimony from the two representatives of the Friends of the Public Garden was helpful in explaining this. As I understood them, photosynthesis can only occur at certain temperatures — especially in the morning, when the ground and air temps are cooler. If trees and turf are blocked from sunlight early in the morning, when the temperature is right for photosynthesis, the trees and turf will suffer.

It would be different if these shadows were happening in the afternoon, when shade is welcome in hot weather, but the fact that they will all occur before 9:30 in the morning is going to be bad for the Common, the Public Garden and the Comm. Ave. Mall.

Keep in mind that shade-producing trees protect residents from the sun . . . as long as they have leaves. Leaves are good; photosynthesis is good. I'm a huge fan of shade myself, but this building will damage our green spaces in a way that we will never be able to correct or mitigate. The Common is already challenged by other shadows and no amount of money thrown at the place can produce more light for photosynthesis. We'll just keep replacing dying trees and turf and watching the new ones die, as is happening to the ornamental-cherry grove planted in one dark, shadowed corner of the Common.

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There's grass called shade

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There's grass called shade grass. It grows in the shade; there's trees that do well in the shade. Quite simply, those areas of the Common are dying in part due to poor upkeep, which can be fixed by the $50M to Boston Common or Franklin Park. You just need a good groundskeeper.

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Draconian

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Yes, sooo very horrifying that nobody will allow these poor indigent developers to violate a state law that has been on the books for a zillion and one years.

Draconian would be letting you decide about bail and teenager's rights. Draconian is NOT making developers follow existing laws that have existed for much of their working existence.

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I'll admit that the term draconian was too harsh

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However, the current "no shadows" law - which IMO is far too restrictive - represents a basic problem with environmental regulation in general - the concept that ANY project is automatically presumed to be detrimental UNLESS the project proponent can prove otherwise. In other words, guilty until proven innocent. Now how would you like to be on trial under a system like that?

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Or...

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You need a real parks budget. The total budget is $3 billion plus. Parks is $22 million or about 7/10ths of 1%. The INCREASE in the schools budget for next year is 50% larger than the entire parks budget.

Shameful.

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Part of the money was already in property taxes

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Marty increased the property tax exemption theoretically lowering the net property tax bill (of course not affecting the cost of renting). If the exemption was not put into place part of the money for parks would already be available.

What of the money that the city will receive following the referendum passage of the surcharge to property taxes? That money is specifically for parks, housing and historic preservation.

Eventually a person lives long enough to start to see through the fog of "look at all the money."

This is a construction project. Hence it means campaign donations. Continued employment of construction trades (especially needed with the Olympics not happening here). This is not about benefits to the city. It is solely about benefits to politicians and developers, detail cops (god forbid any construction project not have detail cops) and the many singular hands that will dip into the pool of cash.

But benefits for the city? Before that $153 millions flows into the city coffers it will most likely be pulled toward some other construction project that needs some kind of subsidy.

The conditions that led to the law that stops more darkening of the Common and Public Garden have not changed. The planet follows the same trajectory. The sun still seems to move from east to west. Days still lengthen and shorten. The physics of sun light have not changed. All that has changed is that a developer is dangling a bag of money.

I've written to my legislators asking them to vote down the exemption that this building needs to cause more harm to the Common and Public Garden.

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> What of the money that the

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What of the money that the city will receive following the referendum passage of the surcharge to property taxes? That money is specifically for parks, housing and historic preservation.

The CPA is nice and helped us unlock the matching state funds (that we already pay for but never received). The CPA at most will bring in ~ $20 Million a year for public housing and park lands. This is $153 Million now, with the estimate of $12 Million recurring from property taxes.

This is a construction project. Hence it means campaign donations. Continued employment of construction trades (especially needed with the Olympics not happening here). This is not about benefits to the city. It is solely about benefits to politicians and developers, detail cops (god forbid any construction project not have detail cops) and the many singular hands that will dip into the pool of cash.

Boston is a city. Buildings get built in cities. This is located in downtown/the financial district around other tall buildings. Building benefits the City by creating jobs and new tax revenue. The money was already earmarked for things like finally completing the Emerald Necklace. Do you think the same thing about every other construction project in the city? Are they all scams?

But benefits for the city? Before that $153 millions flows into the city coffers it will most likely be pulled toward some other construction project that needs some kind of subsidy.

It is already earmarked for various projects.

The conditions that led to the law that stops more darkening of the Common and Public Garden have not changed. The planet follows the same trajectory. The sun still seems to move from east to west. Days still lengthen and shorten. The physics of sun light have not changed. All that has changed is that a developer is dangling a bag of money.

The shadow studies show, honestly, a very minimal impact of shadows on the Common and Public Garden.

In all honesty, I do agree that this piecemeal zoning is crap and that zoning needs to be consistent and this put together a PDA and then see if the BPDA goes to bat for it is BS.

That said, this was the highest bid, by far, in a public build process involving multiple developers to replace a condemned urban-renewal era parking garage. The money will go to helping quite a bit of park land (including parks not in the center of Boston), and it also includes the public area at the base of the building. It was by far the proposal with the most benefit for the city. The cost of constructing the building and tearing down what is basically a concrete bunker isn't cheap, either. Also, at the rate of $12 million a year in new property tax, that means we have already lost another almost $120 million so far in letting it sit like this for a decade.

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Sorry if this may sound

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Sorry if this may sound ignorant or uneducated about this subject, but what is a "Faustian bargain" ?

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Learn how to learn

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Why comment with a polite and self-deprecating apology when you could have taken that same amount of time to google "Faustian bargain" and have your answer? Don't apologize; enlighten yourself! It's easier now that we have things besides old encyclopedias for looking up stuff we don't know.

And I recommend reading Christopher Marlowe's play. It's spectacular.

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Marlowe

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Who is this Christopher Marlowe? Did he write the plays?

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Future ban? LOL

Their proposed request to the state legislature would include a ban on further Common shadow-casting buildings downtown

At least until another connected developer with deep pockets wants their way.

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