McGinley Garden, Milton, MA

A Reprieve for an At-risk Shipman landscape

On April 10, 2020, the Ellen Shipman-designed McGinley Garden in Milton, Massachusetts, not far from Boston, was designated a Landslide at-risk landscape. This secluded Country Place Era garden, created by Shipman in 1925 at the height of her career, has long been a Mecca for garden enthusiasts. However, in February 2020, Comprehensive Land Holdings, LLC, which now owns the property, submitted an Application for Site Eligibility to the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (Mass Housing), seeking approval to develop the four-acre site. According to the application, “the proposed development will replace a gilded-era mansion and outbuildings with 120 multifamily units, of which 25% will be affordable to 80% AMI, and 180 parking spaces.”

McGinley Garden, Milton, MA
McGinley Garden, Milton, MA - Photo courtesy Judith Tankard, 2016

At present the developer has been given Site Approval by Mass Housing for a project that includes the demolition of the house and gardens.  The developer must now go before the local Milton, MA, Zoning Board of Appeals for a Comprehensive Permit, which decides if the project will be allowed, and if so, what conditions must be met.  This could include the size of the development and the preservation of the historic designed landscape.  If the Comprehensive Permit is denied or the developer finds the Permit to be too restrictive, the developer can appeal the decision to Mass Housing.   Mass Housing does have the power to overturn the local Zoning Board of Appeals if the decision is found to be unreasonable.

At this time, however, due to the Governor's State of Emergency guidelines concerning the novel coronavirus, the Milton Zoning Board of Appeals has decided not to hold any hearings until they can do so in person.  They have up to 60 days after the State of Emergency has been lifted.  This can be an incredibly lengthy process, and given current conditions, is being extended.

McGinley Garden, Milton, MA
McGinley Garden, Milton, MA - Courtesy of James O’Day, ASLA; photo by Thomas B. Wedell, AIGA

All letters initially submitted to the Milton Select Board and Mass Housing will be presented to the Zoning Board for review, explaining the historic significance of Mrs. McGinley's gardens. These letters will certainly have an impact on any decision the Zoning Board makes in determining if a Comprehensive Permit will be granted and conditions for the developer.  The hearings will be public and residents as well as others will be invited to attend.  

What You Can Do to Help:

To add your voice to those that already have to help save this rare work by a true pioneer in the field of landscape architecture, members of the public can express their concerns in writing to the following individuals:

(1) Mr. Michael Busby

Mass Housing Finance Agency

One Beacon Street

Boston MA 02186



Note the following at the beginning of your correspondence: 582 Blue Hill Avenue; Chapter 40B Application—MH ID no. 1071

(2) Mr. Michael Dennehy

Town Administrator

Town of Milton Select Board

Town Office Building

525 Canton Avenue

Milton, MA 02186

(617) 898-4800



Note: 582 Blue Hill Avenue; Chapter 40B Application