Inside Longwood’s shadow debate – Axios Boston

A proposed cluster of buildings overlooking Riverway Park has scrutinized the height of one of its buildings, which critics say would cast shadows on part of the historic Emerald Chain.

Why it matters: The development has divided the locals. Some are welcoming the prospect of new affordable units at a time when Boston rents are among the highest in the nation. Others say new homes shouldn’t mean blocking sunlight from beloved public green spaces.

Catch up fast: City planning officials last month approved plans for a 1.7 million square foot development called Longwood Place. It has laboratories, commercial space and 388 residential units.

  • But critics have focused on one of the project’s five buildings, which would stand 295 feet tall.
  • The shadow debate lives on as developer Skanska seeks further approvals for each phase of the Longwood Place project.

The big picture: State laws limit the shadows that new developments can cast across Boston Common, with the exception of the Winthrop Square Tower.

  • But no such law protects the Emerald Necklace, the world-famous green space designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted more than 100 years ago.

Skanska, the developer, plans to set aside 20% of the units in the mixed-use development as affordable units per its proposal. That’s above the city’s current requirement of 13%.

  • Skanska will pay $20 million in connection fees for home and workplace development.
  • Skanska also plans to invest $6 million in a foundation to improve and protect the Emerald Necklace. It will spend another $1 million on a new shadow study.

Zoom in: “We recognize that it is difficult to meet everyone’s individual priorities, and we make no claims that this project does, nor do we believe that any development can achieve such a high standard,” said Carolyn Desmond, vice president for Development at Skanska USA Commercial Development last month.

  • “We have been completely transparent throughout the process and hopefully have shown that we understand the need to protect and invest in our valuable public parkland,” added Desmond.
  • She said the company has been collaborating with locals “to the greatest extent possible” since the design process began in the summer of 2021.

Students, local residents and park residents say the shadows of the 295-foot-tall office and laboratory space would affect the vegetation and integrity of the Fens and Riverway Park historic areas.

kelly farell, A Sasaki ecologist hired by developers told city officials that the shadows will fall on March 21.

  • However, the city’s interim guidelines for the Longwood Medical Area state that no project should be approved if it casts a new shadow on the Emerald Necklace, Joslin Park, or Evans Park Way for more than an hour on March 21.
  • However, the 2003 guidelines were never codified into the city’s zoning code, which would have made them enforceable.

What you say: “Until we can actually get Shadows into a form where they don’t set a precedent for other projects that are ahead of us, I think we need to submit this one,” Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, told the planning Officials before their vote.

What’s next: Each building in the Longwood Place proposal must go through a further review process.

  • Meanwhile, Boston Councilwoman Kenzie Bok and residents are hoping the city is moving toward policy changes that protect green spaces from new shade.

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