The city’s Zoning Board of Appeal voted unanimously (5-0) at its Oct. 4 virtual hearing to deny a controversial application to increase the occupancy of an existing lodging house at 291 Beacon St.
George Haroutiounian, the building owner and managing director of SEE Real Estate, LLC, had proposed increasing the occupancy of the lodging house from the current number of 11 to 22 – down from his previous proposed occupancy of 31 guests.
The four-story, brick building currently comprises 11 units, ranging in size from around 225 square feet to the approximately 1,200 square-foot top unit. Each unit has a kitchen, as well as a bathroom, except for the two smallest units on the third floor, which share a bathroom.
Haroutiounian said there is no construction work currently planned for the building, although “renovations of the kitchens and bathrooms might come later.”
The applicant’s attorney, Tanya Trevisan of Doherty Law Offices, said Haroutiounian had also agreed to stipulations for the application’s approval, including that guests would stay a minimum two-night stay on weekends, or a minimum two-night stay during the rest of the week.
Furthermore, Trevisan said a recent survey indicated that there were seven other lodging houses in the immediate area, each with an average of 21 occupants.
Mark Fortune, ZBA secretary, said the city had received several letters of opposition regarding the application and none in favor of it.
Anthony Baez, the Back Bay liaison for District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok, said they also had received many letters of opposition to the application due to the requested increase in occupancy and added that Councilor Bok was opposed to the application.
Maggie Van Scoy, the city’s neighborhood liaison for Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway-Kenmore, and Mission Hill, said she would defer to the ZBA on the matter, but added that the consensus from two abutters meeting, as well as from a “letter of strong opposition” from the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, was that the requested change in occupancy didn’t sit well with most nearby residents.
Elliott Laffer, chair of NABB’s board of directors, said that the application is clear in its intention to convert the building into short-term rentals – something that NABB hasn’t opposed on Newbury Street in the past but remains steadfast against on this residential block of Beacon Street.
(NABB’s License and Building Use Committee had previously reviewed the application at its Aug. 1 meeting, as well as the earlier iteration of the application, with a requested occupancy of 31, at its June 3 meeting.)
Carol Ann Hayes, a resident of 279 Beacon St., as well as a 60-year resident of the Back Bay, echoed this sentiment and said she believes the applicant’s expansion plans intend to transform the building into “in effect an Airbnb hotel…with an absentee landlord.”
This usage would also result in the reduction of much-needed long-term rental units in the city, added Hayes. Haroutiounian’s application had come before the ZBA once before several months ago but ultimately wasn’t heard due to the absence of a quorum at the hearing.