BBAC Approves DAS Nodes on Comm. Ave., Signs for Genealogical Society Exhibit

DAS nodes and museum exhibit signs were huge topics of conversation at the Back Bay Architectural Commission hearing on March 13. Applicant Ricardo Sous, Esq. proposed on behalf of ExteNet Systems, Inc. to install Distributed Antenna System (DAS) nodes in seven Back Bay locations.

Sous said this would allow for the expansion of the network on the cross streets on Commonwealth Avenue. They are looking to replace seven single-acorn street lights with double-acorn street lights with antenna and elevated base for this communications equipment. They will be located at the intersections of Commonwealth Avenue and Berkeley Street, Clarendon Street, Dartmouth Street, Exeter Street, Fairfield Street, Gloucester Street, Hereford Street Sous said these were good locations as they “always needed coverage up and down Comm. Ave.” They chose these locations because they are prohibited from placing the nodes on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, he added.

Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission Joe Cornish said that he received emailed comments from a resident who is concerned about the height of the antennae and closeness to the buildings, as well as two more emails in opposition to the project.

“A bunch of our members were not happy about it but NABB approved it in concept,” said Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). She said that NABB was concerned about the height at the Dartmouth Street location especially.

Patricia O’Neill, a resident on Commonwealth Ave., said, “We are going to look right at that pole,” and was concerned about the safety of the frequencies that the antennae will emit. She wondered why they couldn’t go on roofs instead of on the ground.

“We’re in the same boat,” said Gerald Fleming, another resident on Commonwealth Avenue. He agreed that the radiation is an issue, and is also concerned about the light intensity. “Even the one-bulb acorn is blasting light into our living room,” he said, and expressed his concern for doubling that with the double acorn light. “I think there should be further exploration of putting them on the mall,” he said.

Sous responded by saying that these are “very low-powered installations,” and the signal does not travel very far. Therefore, they need to install more of them to achieve the network expansion that they’re looking for. The radiation they emit is “below guidelines,” he added, and said that the macro networks on roofs are so overloaded so these new nodes are needed as supplements. The lighting will also be directional so it won’t go into people’s houses.

The Commission voted to approve this application as presented.

 At 97-101 Newbury St., applicant Matt Ottinger presented a proposal to put in two “educational, informative” signs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society building for an exhibit that will be installed next month.

Right now, the society has two permanent signs. 2020 is the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims landing in Plymouth, so Ottinger said that the Genealogical Society has worked with Plymouth 400 and Mayflower organizations to mourn an exhibit about the 400th anniversary. “And what we’d like to do is put some exhibit-related signage in the garden to really bring people into the building,” Ottinger said.

“What we’re trying to do is to be more open to people walking off the street to see our exhibit, see our collection,” Ottinger continued. “We do have more than just our genealogical records.”

Ottinger said that the exhibit is expected to be installed this April and throughout 2020. They are proposing that from this April through this November, the proposed signs will be in place, as it is “traffic season,” he said. The signs will then be taken out for the winder and replaced from April to November 2020.

“We would like to have the opportunity to do similar installations like this with the exhibit signage to highlight what we’re doing inside the building,” for special events that are longer than something like a lecture or a single program, he said.

BBAC Commissioner Patti Quinn said she felt like there would be too many signs if two more were installed, as there are already the two existing permanent signs, three bronze plaques, a sign carved into the stone on the building, and sandwich boards. Ottinger responded by saying that the sandwich boards would be going away as part of this proposal.

BBAC Commissioner Iphigenia Demetriades disagreed with Quinn: “ To me, this is different, it’s not a store, it’s like a mini museum and having something more to highlight an exhibition that’s going on increases traffic on the street..I don’t see anything wrong with it,” she said. She said she thinks it’s “tasteful,” and “people want to see stuff like this.”

After some more back-and-forth with Ottinger and some more debate, the BBAC ultimately voted to approve the two signs as presented, with the proviso that they only stay for the duration of the exhibit, the sandwich boards are to be removed, and the applicant will need to return if he wants to display different signs for other exhibits in the future.

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