Violations Cause a Stir at the South End Landmarks District Commission Hearing

February 23, 2018
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Outside the Cathedral Grammar School and the ABCD South End Head Start at 595 Harrison Ave., a steel ramp has been erected that runs from the side of the front-door entrance on Harrison Avenue, back through the parking lot to a back door – making it handicap accessible.

But, somewhere through this process, lack of notification was made to the South End Landmarks District Commission (SELDC), which otherwise wouldn’t have approved it.

“We are in an awkward situation where an applicant has gone through the process but somewhere along the way, the process got broke down,” said Chair John Amodeo at the SELDC hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 6. “Nevertheless, a ramp got built that wouldn’t have been approved by the Commission.”

According to Google Maps, the ramp has been there since at least August of 2017.

It has gotten permitting from other City agencies, including the Inspectional Services Department, and is ADA compliant.

In order to make the ramp meet the standards of the SELDC, the commissioners have asked that they obscure the structure as much as possible. This includes putting plantings around the entire structure that is about 5 to 6 feet wide.

The Commission would like to see it filled with shrubbery and flowering trees and have a curb to have separation from the parking lot.

In addition, the Commission said they want the ramp to be painted black.

“Anything substantial that receives a building permit needs to go by the Commission,” said Amodeo.

The Commission approved the new wall signage that will update the Cathedral Grammar School signage with the addition of ABCD Head Start. The Commission approved the ramp as long as they make the plantings by May 1 with the completion by June 1. Details of the plantings will go to staff.

 

Curved sash windows gone awry

At 126 West Newtown St. in the South End, a mix-up occurred during construction during the replacement of six, historic, curved-wood window sashes on the front façade of the brick row-house. The curved windows in the South End are a historical feature that the Commission is fighting to save as they slowly are disappearing throughout the district.

Previously, this application was brought before the Commission and approved for replacement of the curb-sashed windows, not the flat ones that were installed.

When construction began, the existing windows were in poor condition. The owners mistakenly ordered and installed JELD-WEN two-by-two wood windows. The existing windows were curved sash, straight glass.

In light of a scheduled unit closing this past January, a 10-week lead-time to get these curved sash windows and the excessive costs of approximately $8,500 per window, the owners decided to retrofit the six windows.

Modeling the depth of the existing sash and curve angles carpenters fabricated and glued cedar wood to exactly mimic the existing curve, but the glass of the windows remains flat.

In an effort to gain community support Lewis Legon of Renaissance Investments went to the local neighborhood group. Legon received support from community members, saying they thought the new windows looked great.

But, the Commission didn’t buy it.

“We haven’t allowed in the past, and we can’t allow this situation any differently,” said Commissioner John Freeman. “It’s not in our hands to make an exception.”

Amodeo added, “It is good that you got the neighborhood support, but they’re not the ones questioned when this is brought forth as an application – we are.”

Freeman noted that the other work restoring the house is beautiful.

Steve Fox, chair of the neighborhood association said he is grateful for all the work the SELDC has done in the community, but noted that he sees a lot of other unsightly violations in the neighborhood that he wishes the Commission would act on.

“People walking by probably won’t notice the difference,” said Fox. “I understand the position the Commission is in, but there are other violations in the neighborhood that are much more egregious than this one.”

Amodeo said the Commission can only deal with violations that are brought in front of them, and this happened to be an application that was approved and not executed as planned.

“We understand that there are people out there doing whatever, but unless somebody brings it in front of us, we’re in a place where we can’t deal with it,” said Amodeo.

The Commission denied the application and asked the applicant to replace with the windows with a curb-sash. Once installed, the approval can come from staff.

 

Painted utility boxes are coming to Harriet Tubman Park

Located on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Pembroke Street in the South End, the Harriet Tubman Park is slated to get some fresh paint on the utility boxes located within the park.

The Friends of the Harriet Tubman Park proposed to depict the 15 bronze tiles that are embedded in the sidewalk area near the park, on the electrical boxes that will include a key with the artists’ names and corresponding pieces of artwork.

The subject matter depicted on the tiles was inspired by Harriet Tubman’s life. The tiles were created by children from the Park School in Brookline and the Children’s Art Centre under the guidance of their art teacher Fern Cunningham.

Located near the statute are 12 of the tiles and the other three are embedded in the sidewall of the Pembroke Street entrance.

The electrical boxes will be painted with the image of the tiles closest to their respective box.

The project is part of the Friends group and the City’s goal of making more information available about the park, Harriet Tubman, and the public art to the many park visitors.

The painting of the utility boxes has been granted permission by the Boston Art Commission.

The Commission had some concerns that the boxes will be tagged and might be prone to graffiti, but the artist Heidi Schork, who is also the director of the Mayor’s Mural Crew, said not to worry.

“If the work is well done, it won’t be tagged,” said Schork. “When it is amateur and sloppy, it will get signage, but you won’t get graffiti on these electrical boxes.”

Frieda Garcia added that with all the small shops and residential buildings in the area, there are always eyes on the park. In addition the Friends have committed to the upkeep of the murals, just as they do with the statues and the rest of the park.

The abolitionist Harriet Tubman escaped slavery from the south, and became the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. She eventually made it to Boston as part of her never-ending quest for equal rights.

In honor of her legacy, the park at Harriet Tubman Square features two bronze sculptures. One is a contemporary piece by Dorchester artist Fern Cunningham and a second piece was sculpted in 1913 by Meta Warrick Fuller to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

CBA Landscape Architects designed an ornamental fence and bollards to complement the spirit of the sculptures while providing curbed bench-seating beneath shade trees.

“I’m super excited for this project,” said Jacob Wessel, director of City Hall to Go, who happens to live in the neighborhood. “I see kids playing around the park and people come to take pictures of the statues all the time. I’m excited to see the utility boxes come to life.”

The Commission approved the application as submitted, as long as an outline of what will appear on the boxes is submitted to staff.

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