Back Bay Architectural Commission Approves Design for Long-standing Violation Against Hereford Street Owner

By Beth Treffeisen

In a 2-1 decision, the Back Bay Architectural Commission approved the design of a temporary landscaping plan behind 45-53 Hereford Street row houses, along with the repainting of masonry at the wall that runs along Newbury Street behind 53 Hereford St.

Both Iphigenia Demetriades the chair of the violations committee, and Kathleen Connor the chair of the BBAC, voted for it. Commissioner Jerome CooperKing voted against, pointing towards issues with the proposed landscaping design.

“I was hoping for a little more than this,” said CooperKing who stated concerns over a separate proposed extension of 53 Hereford St. into the area. “What if it doesn’t get approved? We have a lawsuit out there – we need to have something more out there.”

The decision includes making sure that the scales of the planters are appropriate and that details of the screening of the vents will go to staff. The deadline to get the landscaping done is by November 3. They will reassess this proposal in one year on September 1.

At the hearing, Mike Ross, the former Boston City Councillor, now an attorney for Prince Lobel Tye LLP, and Guy Grassi, an architect from Grassi Design Group Inc., proposed having nine planter boxes in the back running 19 by 19 feet including two mature grown evergreen trees.

In the front there will be five planter boxes that will run 12 by 12 feet that will include ornamental grasses. Ross said the plantings would change seasonally.

In the past there was talk of planting grass but the owner, Ross said, is concerned because of the maintenance during a drought along with enticing unwanted nuances to the area.

“I understand the issues with grass but I was hoping for something a little more representative of what should be there,” said CooperKing in his dissent. “I’m not asking for grass but I was just hoping for something more than just planters.”

This decision comes after the first violations hearing held on September 14, 2016 that addressed the following violations: unapproved HVAC mechanical equipment located at the rear of 53 Hereford St., unexecuted landscape plan at the rear yards of the properties that was approved by the BBAC staff in 2014 through the direction of the Commission’s Certificate of Appropriateness for the removal of rear yard asphalt paving.

It also included the retention of fire balconies at 53 Hereford St. beyond November 1997 as conditioned by the Commission in 1995. The painting of masonry at the front façade of 45 Hereford St., and unapproved re-painting of masonry, to an architecturally inappropriate standard, at the wall running along Newbury Street behind 53 Hereford St.

At that meeting the staff recommended that the owner remove the paint from the masonry at 45 Hereford St. and complete some temporary landscaping at the rear of 45-53 Hereford St. before the end of this year’s planting season.

The owner of 45-53 Hereford St. plans to cure other outstanding violations as part of a plan to construct an addition to 53 Hereford Street that will infill a lot of the open space behind the row houses.

Plans of that proposal have been submitted to the Commission but because it lacked several important design details the staff deemed the application incomplete and it did not get included in the September 14 public hearing.

Other outstanding violations the commission said may be combined with a proposal to construct the addition.

This controversy has been going on for over 20 years and has lead to some serious concerns from community members and the adjacent abutters to the buildings.

When the meeting turned over for public comment a heated discussion with Neal B. Glick an attorney at Swiggart and Agin LLC., was eventually removed from the room after not following Demetriades instructions on how a violations meeting is conducted.

One of the major concerns that Glick has repeatedly brought to the Commission on behalf of his client is how the BBAC guidelines state, “the commission requires that all regulatory concerns, including zoning, building code, environmental issues, be resolved prior to architectural review.”

Glick points out that violations at 45-53 Hereford St. cannot be remedied as per their guidelines during a review process for the extension of the building located at 53 Hereford Street.

“You don’t know when or if this building will be built,” said Glick. “But you do know that there are violations and they need to be remedied before the new building.”

Shirley Kressel of 27 Hereford St. pointed out that for 125 years there was a grass and park that included big mature trees in the area that now plays home to a parking lot.

Kressel asked the Commission this question before they made a decision, “If you didn’t know that they had a building in mind and that there was trees and rolling grass before and this was the proposal put in front of you – is that something the BBAC would accept?”

Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president of the Back Bay Association, pointed out that there really isn’t another site in the Back Bay like this one.

“There is a new staff and a lot of new eyes and ears throughout,” said Mainzer-Cohen. “I don’t think we can go back, we need to move on.”

Mainzer-Cohen added that there have been a lot of governmental hold-ups for too long and that the neighborhood has done anything they could to slow the process of the building extension.

Mainzer-Cohen said, “It’s time to reset and move this forward along with holding the property owner accountable.”

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