Previously Unapproved Garage Door in the South End Raises Questions to the Landmark District Commission

During the South End Landmarks Commission hearing held on Tuesday, September 6, architect Frank McGuire asked that the existing unapproved garage door for a wall located at 561 Massachusetts Ave. to the Commissioners be allowed to remain.

According to McGuire, the Commission in 2007 originally approved the garage door and the construction of a garage that was never built. But that approval has now expired.

Then a new owners came in and widened the door without approval from the Commission by blowing out and opening the brick wall and installing an accordion door. The owners also did not receive any negative feedback from the community after installing accordion door.

“I am pleased to say I had nothing to do with this,” said McGuire laughing.

Now, the current owners who attended a community meeting with the city learned that the garage door was unapproved and are now seeking to maintain what they have with permission from the South End Landmarks Commission.

McGuire said that the issue with the neighbors was that the new door is nine feet and four inches tall instead of the eight feet that fits under current codes.

“If you inherit something and they want to change it, then they have to change it,” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt.

In response, Commissioner John Amodeo asked, “What would make this look more like it belonged in the South End?”

Suggestions included making it a double door and making it asymmetric with one big door for the car and one smaller service door located to the right.

The Commissioners approved with provisos that include reconstructing the garage door that will be spaced to the left with a smaller service door on the right.  It will be eight feet high with a 12-inch brick pier and both doors will be made with red cedar.

Earlier in the meeting, questions arose with the fence application at 612-626 Tremont Street that would include a decorative frog motif with a rotating pattern. Members of the Puerto Rican community who wanted the fence to reflect their heritage brought up the change in the fence.

Worries quickly arose with setting a precedent if this change was allowed to pass.

“We are respecting context of the larger neighborhood,” said Commissioner Hunt. “This is nothing that we’ve done before. Where do you stop or start with allowing individual discretion?”

Hunt added that she is objecting to the motif because it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the area.

Commissioner Amodeo agreed with Hunt despite enjoying the frog motif.

“I just don’t want to see a precedent,” Commissioner Amodeo said. “A street of uniform row house architecture is not where you will find the assumptions.”

The overall design included refurbishing and augmenting a garden railing, replacing damaged handrails with new handrails, and replacing walkways with poured concrete.

The Commissioners approved the concept and denied without prejudice the scrollwork. They asked that the property manger Courtney Reeves come back with a design that better reflects the surrounding architecture.

At 40 Berkeley Street, there are going to be some major improvements including installing rooftop mechanicals for extensive HVAC upgrades, rebuilding a courtyard wall with new entry gate and installing electrical switch in courtyard area.

The current building has 1950’s system with no air conditioning and has lack of temperature control.

“This building needs it desperately,” said David Snell the architect of the proposal.

The access gate needs to be added to provide service to the new switchgear system they will be installing.

As far as the brick wall that surrounds the courtyard Snell said, “It is very severe to say the least.”

The only question that arose was the colors of the new gate that they proposed being black but the Commissioners suggested they paint it a less jarring color such as dark grey.

It passed with provisos to change the color of the gate and provide a mock-up of the wall.

All of the line items under Administrative Review passed but there was a question about the 14 Worcester Square that extended the roof deck by 25 inches in order to accommodate a built-in grill and seating.

Concerns about how the City of Boston regulations say that only using grills on ground level and or keeping it five feet away from anything flammable raised concerns on how it might catch on fire.

“It may be the case where you get different answers from different people and it’s just the way the wind is blowing,” said Commissioner Diana Parcon on how they might have gotten permission from the Fire Department.

In response Commissioner Hunt said, “Either way I wouldn’t want to be their neighbor.”

But the commissioners all agreed according to Katherine Reed the preservation planner, “It’s not in our purview.”

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