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The shrinking pencil tower

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A skinny tower proposed for Tremont Street across from Boston Common is again shrinking, to the point where it looks more like a ordinary midrise building.

The developers behind 171 Tremont Street are now proposing to build a 12-story building just 175 feet high, about half the height of its original proposal, and roughly as tall as two neighboring buildings.

It was the third time Swiss real estate developer Maurice Dabbah reduced the height of his proposed building, in part because of concerns about the shadows it would cast on the Common.

Subtracting the rooftop mechanical systems, the occupied portion of the building would be now 155 feet high, in line with existing zoning for the property. And it would no longer cast new shadows on the Boston Common.


"We've gone through this process a couple of times now and it became clear that anything over" existing zoning "was not desirable there for the community," said Ross Cameron, a senior associate at architecture firm Elkus Manfredi, which designed the building. "Rather than fight this notion, my client took the high road and changed the project."

The original proposal from Dabbah in late 2014 envisioned a Manhattan-style pencil tower just 50 feet wide but 31 stories high, on a tenth-of-an-acre lot on Tremont Street.

But the shadow it would have cast on the Common triggered strong opposition from the Friends of the Public Garden, who closely monitor a state law limiting the amount of shadow new buildings can cast on the Common and neighboring Garden. Neighbors concerned about traffic impact also spoke out.

Even after Dabbah gradually knocked it down in height — its most recent version, at 19 stories, stood at 235 feet — the Friends group alone generated more than 200 comment letters to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, according to its executive director, Elizabeth Vizza.


"Our concern was always the precedent-setting nature of something going" that high on the Common, she said. "It's a protected zone for a very good reason."

The Dabbah building is one of three towers being proposed in a pocket of downtown between the Common and Washington Street that are facing fierce pushback from neighbors worried about intense development in the neighborhood.

The BRA has already requested New York-based Midwood Investment and Development to revise its 59-story tower on Bromfield Street in Downtown Crossing.

Meanwhile down Washington Street, a 30-story tower on the site of the former Felt nightclub Street has racked up some influential opponents, including Suffolk University, which owns the neighboring Modern Theater, and concert promoter Don Law and philanthropist David Mugar — who own the Boston Opera House, also next door.

The flurry of projects has some in the increasingly-residential neighborhood saying the city needs a comprehensive plan for development in and around Downtown Crossing.

Rishi Shukla, founding member of the Downtown Boston Residents Association, said there's a a lot of conversation between city officials and neighbors about the broader impact of these projects. Now they need to do something about it.

"It's time for a fresh look at the master plan," he said. "I think the appetite is there."

At 171 Tremont, the new plan is for a building that's six stories shorter, which, with its one-unit-per-floor design, means six fewer condos to sell. At 19 stories, the project was set to cost $70 million; now it will cost about $55 million, a spokesman said.


To help save costs, developers nixed a planned underground parking garage and will park residents' cars off-site instead. Not having a garage will also shorten construction by four to six months, Cameron said.

And after nearly two years trying to win approvals, Cameron said, the developers are ready to get going he said, even if their tower is much shorter than originally planned.

"We hope it will be received favorably," he said. "It's still an excellent product for this location."

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.