By Beth Treffeisen
More than a 100 Back Bay residents sporting the sticker “Keep Calm on Comm Ave” packed into City Hall this past Tuesday, Oct. 31, to show their opposition to the proposed private club slated for 29 Commonwealth Ave., only to be turned away after the applicant asked to postpone the hearing date.
The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) was set to discuss the change in occupancy of a commercial office space of Haddon Hall to a private club, but Mike Ross, the applicant’s attorney, asked for a deferral until Jan. 9.
“As you can see from some of my friends in the room, we think a couple of weeks will help us in a community process,” said Ross.
Chair Christine Araujo said that when an applicant requests a deferral, it is usually granted.
“We understand that there are processes that need to continue,” Araujo.
Sandy Edgerley and her husband Paul intend to convert Haddon Hall into a club with a membership of 800.
Plans include having a “game room” on the fifth floor, a fitness floor on the sixth floor, with guest rooms located from seventh to 10th floors. On the 11th floor, the ends of the building would be pulled in to create a larger outdoor patio area with seating for between 25 and 30 guests.
The ZBA application also asked for permission to repair and replace windows, provide new mechanical electrical and plumbing services, and to clean and spot point masonry.
The decision to refer the hearing comes after three community meetings going back to July that discussed the conversion of the building. Neighbors have come out in force against the switch citing concerns regarding potential traffic, delivery and noise impacts and loss of on street parking.
“I think the project is very well reviewed,” said Elliot Laffer of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). “It has had an extensive process including three meetings with a combined attendance of 300 people, many of whom are here today. The idea of a few weeks of process could change anything is hard for me to understand.”
Laffer said that even if the capacity were reduced from 350 people to 250 people it wouldn’t make a big difference. He said the traffic and operation problems along Berkeley Street would still cause issues.
“We are very disappointed that the board and chair deferred the hearing,” said Laffer.
According to Vicki Smith, chair of NABB’s board of directors, about 400 letters in opposition to this project were submitted to the ZBA.
NABB members and other opponents of the club at this location have made it clear that alternative uses of the building would be viewed in a very different light, either for residences or offices.
Mary Lou LeSaffre, who sent out flyers prior to the hearing to warn residents, said she was very excited to see the high turnout.
“We are outraged about the size and impact it will have,” said LeSaffre. “It is currently zoned as an office building, but they are proposing to have a 30-seat bar on a roof deck. Plus, it is the most congested area in the Back Bay. It will take parking spaces away, cause traffic in the alleyway, create noise and have a roof-deck overlooking private residences.”