Sunlight bill receiving strong
support at public hearing
By Châu Mai, Emerson College
Boston – Many residents and neighborhood groups from Boston and
Cambridge turned out at the State House Tuesday morning to voice their strong support for the so-called sunlight bill seeking to protect sunshine in additional public parks.
“The public parks on sunny days provide needed health to the public and sunny days bring economic boost to the community, state tourism and consequently to the overall financial success of the state,” Maura Burke, who works in the Prudential building, testified in front of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
She cited a current study result on the website science-facts.com that Boston has only 98 days of clear sunshine in a year.
“Sunshine on our parks is a commodity of the capital of our state and we will do everything in our power to save that commodity. I ask the committee to support passing the bill H 1169,” said Burke.
Proposed by Rep. Martha Walz of Boston and Rep. Byron Rushing of Roxbury, the sunlight legislation got the most attention among 27 bills going up for a public hearing.
The proposal is meant to extend sunlight protections to five more parks in Bostonand one in Cambridge by prohibiting new high-rise buildings from casting additional shadows on public parkland. The goal is to achieve a balance between new development and ensuring sufficient sunlight for the health of the parks and the enjoyment of the residents, workers and visitors who use them.
Also testifying were representatives from the business community, labor unions, and colleges who opposed the sunlight bill. They said the proposal would result in the loss of jobs, housing units, and real estate taxes to the city.
“Bill H1169 would effectively kill most developments in the central city for the foreseeable future,” – according to Greg Selkoe, a board member of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority has an extensive approval process that includes studies of wind, light and shadow for new projects, opponents emphasized. The city carefully analyzes every new development, so the tools are already in place to make sure they don’t block out the sun.
“I’m not so sure the new MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) wing could have been built adjacent to the Fenway had this legislation been in place,” said Ronald Druker of the Druker Company.
But the advocates of the bill outnumbered those opposing it.
Janine Mudge-Mullen of the board of directors of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay told the committee the petition of more than 1,000 signatures in favor of the legislation.
She said the signatures were from residents in Cambridge, Bacon Hill,Back Bay, Fenway, North End, South End and from the internet.
“TheseMassachusettscitizens asked your support to promote smart and reasonable development that protects our parks. Once sunlight is gone on our parks, it is gone for good,” said Mullen.
The parks mentioned are the Back Bay Fens,Christopher Columbus Park, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Copley Square Park, the Esplanade, and Magazine Beach Park in Cambridge.
The Boston Common and Public Garden have already been protected by the laws passed in 1990 and 1992. “Despite dire predictions of economic harm, the city has still seen growth in these areas,” – said Thomas High, a Back Bay resident and also one of the directors of NABB, who read a letter from his group.
“Parks that are in perpetual shadow are cold, unwelcoming and less likely to be enjoyed, becoming a detriment to the city rather than remaining the attractive asset they are today,” said the NABB letter. “Numerous high-rise projects are being proposed along the High Spine between Downtown and the Fenway, and we feel that our parks are not adequately protected.”
The Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association also advocated the sunlight bill. A board member of CNA, Cathie Zusy said Boston buildings, most recently Boston University high-rise towers, throw large shadows over Charles River some times of the day on the Magazine Beach Park, the second largest park in Cambridge.
“Please do not sacrifice Cambridge or the Charles River for the safety of Boston growth,” Zusy said.