Simon Property Group’s proposal to build a residential tower to complete the expansion of Copley Place was unanimously approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority last week. At 47 stories and 800,000 square feet, Simon’s project will include 318 residential units (condominiums or rentals to be determined), and additional retail space (including an expanded Nieman Marcus), making it Boston’s largest residential tower.
The project has been on the drawing board for several years, but was put on hold due to the Great Recession. Critics cite the usual concerns of traffic, parking, wind and shadows. Also, despite its presence on the horizon for years, and the convening of over a dozen community meetings, some critics claim the project is being rushed through the approval process. I imagine there are many developers who would strongly disagree that Boston’s project-approval process can ever be “rushed.” Another voiced concern – that the project may detract from the area’s vitality – is a bit of a head-scratcher.
That said, the tussle over the effects of shadows on nearby Copley Square Park will likely bring into focus the longstanding shadow debate that has plagued development along Boston’s “High Spine” between Downtown and Fenway for years. That debate has culminated in recently-proposed state legislation – appropriately dubbed the “Shadow Bill” – which would prohibit shadows cast on parks by new buildings taller than what is currently allowed by local zoning restrictions.
The Shadow Bill is being considered by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. At a committee hearing in October, battle lines were drawn between supporters of the bill lamenting the shadowing of public spaces, and opponents claiming the bill will kill viable projects, including ones incorporating smart-growth principles. Also in play is the divisive issue of state control over the local approval process. Given the far-reaching effects this bill would have, we will be following its progress with great interest.