Back Bay Building Blocks: Is New Liberty Mutual Tower Breaking the Law?
Real estate agent John Keith on residents' fears that it will cast a shadow on the Boston Common and Copley Square.
Earlier this year, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company received city approval to build a 22-story tall office tower to be located at the border of the Back Bay.
The $300 million project, which will replace the old Salvation Army site on the corner of Berkeley Street and Columbus Avenue, is expected to create about 500 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs.
The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay has written several letters in which it expresses its concern that the height of the new building will shade the sun on Boston Common, in violation of state law.
The project has the support of Mayor Menino and most of the Boston City Council, so perhaps the company feels it doesn't need to obey the letter of the law. In its Project Notification Form, Liberty Mutual admits there will be a new shadow but contends that's okay:
... that shadow is entirely within the boundaries of a larger area that would be cast in shadow by structures conforming to the as-of-right height limit in effect on May 1, 1990.
That's a pretty gutsy line of defense. Basically, Liberty Mutual is saying that, yeah, there'll be a new shadow, but when it comes to shading the Common there's currently zoning in place that would allow a taller building to be built in front of their's. And if it's built, their building's shadow would be blocked by the taller building's shadow.
Unfortunately for Liberty Mutual, last year, State Rep. Marty Walz, D-Back Bay, and Rep. Byron Rushing, D-South End/Roxbury, filed a bill (now pending a vote) that would expand the existing law and prohibit construction of any building that would cast new shadow on many downtown Boston parks, including nearby Copley Square.
Liberty Mutual admits there will be new shadow on the historic square but implies it's such a small amount – for a few weeks in September from 7:35 a.m. – 7:50 a.m. – that it really shouldn't matter:
The maximum extent of this new shadow is approximately the size of two MBTA buses and this amount of new shadow lasts no longer than a few minutes before fading to a de minimis sliver for a few minutes more.
The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay was not amused:
[A] statement of "de minimis" shadow is not an adequate analysis of the impacts to our historic buildings and public parks.
Who's right? Is a law 'absolute'? Should the neighborhood association accept this project as proposed or should it demand full compliance?
If it decides this is worthy of a fight, it will need to move fast. Demolition of the Salvation Army building has already begun.