Wheelchair Lift Causes Concern at BBAC Meeting

By Beth Treffeisen

The Back Bay Architectural Commission denied without prejudice the project proposed for 235 Newbury Street that would update the front façade of the restaurant and salon located at the site and add a new wheelchair lift service to the first floor and lower level basement retail space.

The Commission sited major concerns over the outside house that would be constructed to hold the lift on the corner of Newbury Street and Fairfield Street.

“It just seems very awkwardly placed,” said Commissioner David Eisen. “This seems like a bigger volume and more obtrusive compared to the stairs on the other side.”

The developers from EMARC architecture pointed out that they needed to add the lift to provide wheelchair accessibility to the retail and restaurant space located at the building.

They explored options of trying to place it in the rear but code states it has to be in the front to prevent the feeling of people with wheel chairs must go to the back and everyone else goes in the front.

“I think the biggest problem is that it’s right on that corner – it it’s moved inside that would be ideal but even if it’s in the center that would be better,” said Commissioner Jerome CooperKing. “Something that is not so open. It is changing the site lines completely along with the building.”

The owner of the building spoke to how he is trying to improve the entire façade. The entire existing lower and upper patio along Newbury Street will also be renovated along with patch and repair on the exterior masonry at the front façade.

The Commission asked that they re-look at the location of the lift and return at next month’s meeting.

Commissioner Lex Stevens said, “Basically it’s this – no big stone box on Newbury Street.”

At the hearing the Commission also approved a new lower level-parking garage with an interior turntable located at 17 Commonwealth Ave.

This will create a new ramp garage entry, pedestrian entry and convert the existing door at rear elevations first story into a window.

Two parking garages of its kind exist at 7 and 11 Commonwealth Ave.

The owners of the building currently have two parking spaces and are looking to have four.

This garage will be excavated because there currently is no garage at this building. It will sit just above the water table. Due to a garden wall, the new entrance will not be seen from the public way.

Commissioner Robert Weintraub made the motion to pass it saying, “I would like to make the motion to approve this project even though the engineering is going to cost them a million dollars.”

A violations hearing also took place before the hearing for one hour that went into executive session, closing it to the public. The violation committee discussed litigation strategy against an open meeting law complaint. They re-convened after the hearing to talk to the full Commission.

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