Trees and HVAC Units Were Major Talking Points at BBAC Hearing

Trees were a major topic of discussion at the Back Bay Architectural Commission Hearing on Aug. 8. In a continuation from the July 11 hearing, applicant Lesley Ciano from 40 Hereford Street was back with more information regarding her two ailanthus trees and one birch tree.

Boston Landmarks Commission Director of Design Review Joe Cornish said that he spent a lot of time with the property owner in the back garden, and determined that one ailanthus tree is very close to the stairs, and the other one is touching the back wall.

“I think the property owner is sincere. They wanted to save these trees, but they’ve just become too large and are really affecting their enjoyment of the back garden,” Cornish said.

“The roots are humungous now,” Ciano said. “We’re afraid now that we’re going to start running into structural damage to the building.”

It was determined that the birch tree can be saved, but it has to be trimmed so it doesn’t impede the fire escape. Ciano said that she’d like to plant the two new trees 4 or 5 feet away from the wall.

Laurie Thomas from the Garden Club of the Back Bay’s Tree Committee said that the committee continues to support the preservation of all three trees. She said that the engineer’s report does describe damage to the stairs, but not to the building foundation. She also said that if encroaching roots are the problem, they can “probably be removed without removing the tree,” and that if these trees are allowed to be removed, it will set a “precedent that may haunt us in the future.”

“I think it’s overreacting to take both trees out,” said Sue Prindle from the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). She thinks that the one tree that isn’t currently causing damage should be kept.

Commissioner Jerome CooperKing suggested that the trees be removed using a staggered process. One tree would be removed now and a new one replanted, then the other one would be removed 10-15 years later.

“We’re just shifting the problem,” said Vice Chair Iphigenia Demetriades. She said that ailanthus roots are always causing trouble, but Thomas gave nothing but praise for ailanthus trees.

The staff recommended that the birch tree be left alone and the two ailanthus trees be removed. Demetriades made a motion to go with the staff recommendation and to pick a substitution tree that the staff will approve. She also said that the Garden Club can be consulted and make a recommendation for the replacement trees.

Commissioners CooperKing and John Christiansen objected to this motion, but it carried, and the two ailanthus trees are permitted to be removed.

The sentiment regarding the ailanthus trees at 409 Beacon St., however, was much different. Applicant Julian Quero was looking to remove one ailanthus tree and one Norway Maple tree in the rear yard.

Laurie Thomas said that the committee recommends the removal of these trees “immediately,” as they are damaged beyond recovery. “These trees are so fragile and hazardous. If they were pruned to be saved, it would have to be so extreme that they wouldn’t recover from the pruning to continue to grow,” she said.

She said that removal is the only answer for these trees, and recommended that they be replaced with either something like Fastigiate Oaks, which are tall but have a compact canopy, or a large tree and a smaller tree. She said that the tree committee would be “happy” to work with the applicant to come up with trees that work for everybody.

Prindle said she thinks that specifying caliper for the replacement trees is important, and Thomas said that that specification should come from the arborist.

The commission voted to approve a motion to approve the application and replace the trees with two-large shade trees after consultation with the Garden Club and notification to the staff about caliper and final tree selection.

Two other non-tree related applications were heard as well, including full replacement of the front of the building at 171 Commonwealth Avenue. The applicant also proposed to replace the existing deck on the roof, as well as the racing and air-conditioning units and install a coper-clad head house and elevator override, and in the rear, they would like to re-landscape the yard, install a fence, lighting, garage door, and Juliet balcony, as well as replace the existing balcony at roof of bay.

A representative from backbayhouses.org called this building a “very important building,” and noted to the commission that the rear facade has been altered. “I would urge the commission should you approve it to include in your decision that this is not an original facade.”

Christiansen asked if there was any way that the size of the storage area on the roof could be reduced or eliminated, but the representative for the applicants said that that space already exists and is actually very low.

The commission approved the project with the understanding that the back facade has been altered for the garage door opening and it could be believed to be an original invention.

At 12-14 Commonwealth Ave., the applicant proposed to put four HVAC units on the rood in the center of the building and provide an aluminum, louvered screening, as well as a louvered vent over each of the studio windows painted black. The applicant said that there are mockups on the rood that can be moved around.

Christiansen expressed his dislike for the screening, and said that he thinks it would be “nasty to look at.”

A woman who is an abutter to 12-14 Commonwealth Ave. said that she inherited an apartment where these new units would be directly visible from the bedroom windows. She said that she and her sister live in London and have not had time to meet with people to discuss what the alternatives may be, and was also not informed of this proposal by anyone until the commission sent her a notice.

The applicant said, “We want to be a good neighbor,” and that would be happy to have a discussion with her.

Chair Kathleen Connor read a letter form the Board of Commonwealth Homes Association at 2 Commonwealth Ave. (adjacent to 12-14 Commonwealth Ave.) who said that they would like to show their support for the proposed HVAC units on the roof. They would, however, like to recommend that the screening not be put up around the units until they are up and running and any unreasonable noise issues are addressed.

Prindle said that NABB didn’t have a problem with the proposed vents, but there is concern about the view from 2 Commonwealth Ave.

John Christiansen made a motion to approve the location of the units “somewhere on this roof,” and that the applicant will work with the staff to come to a compromise about a solution. He reiterated his preference that the screening not be used unless there is an issue with noise, and approved the brick vents. The motion was approved.

Commissioner Lisa Saunders had to excuse herself from the hearing of the application at 115 Marlborough St. because the applicant works for her. This left only four commissioners, which does not constitute a quorum, so the application was continued until September.

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