Problematic Alley Tree Gains Approval for Removal in the Back Bay

By Beth Treffeisen

Along an alleyway behind Beacon Street in the Back Bay, a hundred-year-old tree sticks out of a brick garage, standing out among the asphalt and cars that line the small street that runs parallel to Storrow Drive.

But, that tree won’t be there for long. The Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) voted 7-2 to approve the removal of the tree and expand the existing garage and garage door opening, with Commissioners David Sampson and David Eisen opposing at a Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) hearing held on December 13.

Joseph Holland who is behind the design and construction of the garage noted that the current garage was built around the tree in an effort to save the tree, but that the owners have noted significant problems with the tree harboring rodents.

“I know it is a difficult thing to see the tree moved, and I’m not against trees but this one is problematic,” said Holland.

In addition, Holland said the tree might be causing structural damage to the neighbor’s garage wall. The owners will replace the tree in the courtyard, as requested by the Commission.

A representative of the Garden Club of the Back Bay, Laurie Thomas noted that they conducted an on-site visit with both the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) and an arborist.

The arborist said that the tree won’t continue to grow and could survive in that space for many years to come. The Garden Club of the Back Bay believes tree pruning would be the best option for solving the problem, but that removing the tree altogether would not stem the rodent problem.

In addition, the roots of the tree are very extensive and would be expensive to remove in order to extend the garage.

“It would cause more damage than just leaving it alone,” said Thomas. “We suggest withdrawal of this application especially because there are only a few ally trees left.”

The owner of 4 Beacon Street stood up at the hearing and said he enjoys the tree, and the shade it provides, but he continues to worry about the rodent problem, especially around small children.

“The rats use the tree as a super highway in the back,” said the owner. “With children it becomes a concern with rodents running up and down that tree.”

The representative from the Garden Club of the Back Bay said that either way rodents would find a way to climb walls and scale fences.

BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor said, “I think because of the structural aspect the tree needs to be removed.”


Rear Parking Wall Height Causes Concern Amongst Commissioners

An application to remove the crossbar framing the parking area behind 183 Commonwealth Ave on Public Alley 425 caused some stir with the Commission that also wanted the brick walls of the structure removed.

The Commission approved the application as presented with the brick wall intact, but noted that if it made more sense to remove them or make them shorter to do so, and send details to staff.

The Trustees of the building wanted to remove the crossbar that is seven feet high and prevents boom lift and other trucks from entering the parking area. This limitation complicates servicing the rear façade, servicing the roof of the building and accepting deliveries.

The application to remove the crossbar requires no zoning variance and is not a historic structure.

The application was considered for administrative approval at the Oct. 11 public hearing but then was brought to the full Commission at the Dec. 13 hearing after a neighbor sent a letter disapproving it and the Commission wanted to look into it further.

There were several meetings between the buildings Trustees and Rob Chiccarelli, the building’s mason that said removing the sidewalls is not feasible and cannot be considered. But, members of the Commission thought otherwise.

“Why can’t we get the wall a little bit lower?” asked Commissioner John Christiansen.

“It would open up the dark ally a little more,” said Commissioner Jerome CooperKing in response. “I’m for the crossbar going down because its out lived its purpose. Has the wall? I think so and I would like to see it shorter.

Commissioner David Eisen said he had some questions on what the masonry was saying about the structural integrity of the wall, saying that taking down the wall wouldn’t cause more problems but would help with the visibility and be safer.

The Trustee members said they had the majority support from their members to take down the crossbar and leave the walls for privacy reasons.

Since the application fit within the guidelines of the BBAC, it was passed.


  • The construction of a copper clad penthouse addition and elevator overrun head house, roof, roof deck, rooftop condenser and rooftop terrace at existing rear bay at 361 Beacon St. was denied without prejudice after the Commission learned that the elevator head house extended one floor too high. A new design will have to be submitted, along with proof that the addition will be not be visible from a public way.
  • In addition the application to construct a penthouse at 212 Commonwealth Ave was denied without prejudice after questions arose whether it would be visible or not. The applicants were asked to explore more options and for staff to review a new mock up.

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