South End Landmarks Commission Denies New Billboard

By Beth Treffeisen

In a move to try to replace and update the existing rusting billboard located on a residential building that over looks Washington Street in the South End, a representative of the owner, Mike’s City Diner, failed to get permission from the South End Landmarks Commission to replace the aging advertisement poster.

“We don’t allow billboards,” said Commissioner John Freeman at the hearing on Sept. 5. “There’s just no exemption.”

The South End Landmark District guidelines say that if the billboard comes down nothing can go back up to replace it. This current billboard predates when the neighborhood was marked as an historic landmark.

The proposed billboard would have replaced the 14-foot-high and 26-feet-wide sign with a sleeker, safer, cleaner and tighter structure that is currently there.

Right now, the advertisements are being retrofitted over something that was originally designed for paper cotton and not the new vinyl material – making it look unappealing.

“Our hope is that when things like this do need repair is that they just come down,” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt.

For safety, the Commission does allow the owners of billboards to repair them. Chair John Amodeo said that there is a percentage on what can be repaired and replaced at any given time. Case-in-point you can’t repair by replacing 100 percent of it.

“But you can imagine how many people would want billboards in the South End if it was allowed,” said Freeman.

Hunt added that Mike’s City Diner is such a well-known institution in the South End that they don’t even need a billboard to help them in that department.

The commission denied the application without prejudice. A new application will have to be submitted that specifies that they are repairing the billboard and not replacing it.

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‘It’s roof deck season’

Later at the South End Landmarks Commission a slew of roof decks came through to get permission to be placed on roofs across the South End.

The South End Landmarks Commission guidelines outline that if it is not visible the Commission has no purview over it. In the past, the Commission has allowed roof decks if they are minimally visible from a public way but asked the owners to make them as discrete as possible.

At the hearing held on September 5, nine applications came in front of the Commission. Out of the applications the majority passed or were deemed not visible from a public way.

Only one roof deck at 2 St. Charles St. became an issue. There was a real estate closing on the table that was contingent on the approval of this roof deck.

The application asked to install a 10-by-7-foot roof deck, but since the site, a three-story rowhouse is next to a much lower one-story building the line of sight gets a lot more complicated.

Joe Cornish, preservation planner for the South End Landmarks Commission, said that he visited the site and couldn’t see the mock-up from anywhere. He viewed the mock-up on the roof and determined that it did not meet the dimensions presented in the application.

After some confusion, Cornish asked if the commission would send a sub-committee to determine if the mock-up meets the dimensions and are not visible.

James Fuller the contractor for the building said that this needed to be approved by the closing of the building this Friday, Sept. 8.

If a sub-committee were to go out, a 48-hour notice would have to put out first in case someone wants to make public comment that might not make the Friday deadline.

“In my vision I can’t see it from any public way,” said Fuller. “Also, just to be clear, I’m not trying to pull a trick here. Even if it is built and it is visible we would have to come right back here.”

Because the timeline is so tight, the commission made a motion to remand the application to staff to determine visibility.

“We take every roof deck on a case-by-case basis,” said Chair John Amodeo. “They all have unique visibility. You may feel like you followed the process but that only brings you to the hearing – it doesn’t mean you would get approved.”

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