The benefits of the Winthrop Square project easily outweigh the complaints

The Boston Globe | By Adrian Walker
April 26, 2017

Sanity could finally arrive on Wednesday in the long battle over the new skyscraper planned for the site of the old Winthrop Square Garage.

In all likelihood, the Boston City Council will clear the way for construction of the Millennium Partners project. That is an outcome that will cheer many residents, especially advocates of more funding for parks and public housing. But council approval, if it comes, will also frustrate critics of development who would see it as a retreat from a commitment to protect Boston Common and the Public Garden from encroaching development.

The new building will mark a significant step forward in the rebirth of Downtown Crossing. It’s certainly going to be a big improvement over what it’s replacing. The old city-owned garage closed years ago after cement started falling from the ceiling. The city was eventually forced to condemn its own property for the sake of public safety.

Yet the battle over Winthrop Square’s future has become heated, for a reason no one anticipated: shadows. The garage — and thus the site of the tower to replace it — is in an area where state law restricts building height. The laws were passed in the early 1990s, at a time when there was concern about the shadows that new developments might cast on the Common and Public Garden.

The proposed building’s height violates state law, which is why the City Council — and, eventually, the Legislature — will have to pass a home-rule petition carving out an exemption in order for the tower be built.

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