Behind 288 Commonwealth Ave. a newly built alleyway garden is causing more problems than initially intended.
The owners of 288 Commonwealth Ave. did not gain permission from the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) to remove a rear garden oasis in an otherwise concrete back alleyway. The garden was initially built as a swamp to build a ramp and move their parking underground.
Located across the street from the Casa Romero restaurant, the green oasis has become a breeding ground for rats – upsetting the owners and the immediate neighbors.
An amendment to their application asked the Commission to change their plans by extending the paving in their rear yard, repairing the rear elevation and installing rooftop vents.
But, the Commission didn’t want to see the green space go.
“The only reason why we initially passed this was because it created some green space so it wouldn’t turn into parking,” said Iphigenia Demetriades, Vice Chair of BBAC. “There is no way I can support this. Planters are not a green space.”
The applicant emphasized the rodent problem saying they are getting into the vents and getting inside the building – the green space is only worsening the problem.
Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay noted that there are ways to stem the rat problem and the green space is critical to keep – pointing to the lack of trees lining the back alleyway.
The Garden Club of the Back Bay representative said it wouldn’t make a difference if the garden is taken out and replaced by bricks because rats can squeeze into tiny spaces to the point they could get under them. The only way to get rid of the rats would be to get rid of any water and food in the area.
The board of the trustees of 290 Commonwealth Ave. agreed.
“They are entering the building and getting up to the second and third floors,” she said. “We spent a lot of money and time to prevent this, but the landscaping with the plants is the problem. Rats are digging under the soil and getting into the buildings.”
The trustee said that she avoids walking in the area because she doesn’t know when a rat will run out. “It’s a health hazard,” she said.
A resident at 286 Commonwealth Ave. was baffled to hear the troubles being had at 290 Commonwealth Ave., saying his building doesn’t have the same rat infestation problems after hiring an exterminator once.
“If this passes, when you look down the ally there will be no more green space – I think it should stay,” he said. “This is a 400-year-old city with rats; whether you have a garden or pavement it won’t change it.”
In the end, the Commission denied the extension of the pavers and approved the vents at the roof, giving free range for the rats to continue to roam in the garden oasis.
212 Commonwealth Ave Penthouse Exposure
Despite still being visible from the opposite side of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the BBAC Commission approved a revised penthouse and roof deck at 212 Commonwealth Ave.
The application came back after being denied without prejudice at the Dec. 13 hearing. The Commission asked the applicants to explore more options and to review a mock-up with staff to make the penthouse less visible.
The applicant said that only the very top of the copper clad of the penthouse will be visible and argued it would blend in amongst the other rooftops in the area.
Other renovations include removing the fire egress stairs and balconies in the rear of the row house and constructing a one-story, rear addition with a garden wall and gate.
Since the last time they were in front of the Commission, the applicants significantly moved back the penthouse and lowered the top floor ceiling to bring the entire structure down. But despite their efforts, it is still visible.
There were fears that this would be setting a precedent if passed, but Commissioner Jerome CooperKing said they have allowed penthouses that are slightly visible from Commonwealth Avenue before. The Commission passed the application as presented.
Remodeling 142 Beacon St.
Historically, 142 Beacon St. used to be a sister house to the row house next door. It featured a brownstone exterior and front porch covered in ivy. But, if one lives in the Back Bay, they would know that gorgeous façade is no longer there. Instead, the building adorns a brick outer layer, a white stone basement entry and a cobbled together penthouse on top.
In an effort to harken back to the building’s glory days, architect Guy Grassi from Grassi Design Group has asked the Commission to redo the outer façade along with major upgrades to the rear yard.
At the front façade, they will be replacing the existing brick veneer with cast stone veneer and replacing all the windows. The applicants will restore front and rear slate roofs and replace the elevator head house, skylights, and the mechanical equipment at the uppermost roof.
In addition, they will construct a two-story rear addition and garage with roof deck on top.
Grassi said that although the building once had brownstone, it is unclear if it is still behind the brick and doesn’t believe he could bring it back to the forefront.
But, he is willing to save the brick garden walls in the backyard that will be turned into a garage and the entranceway gate will be relocated to the garden.
The Commission approved the application with a proviso that staff be heavily involved throughout the process because one Commissioner said it has been too many times that large renovations don’t go as planned and differ from what was presented to the Commission.
An earlier version of this story stated that 288 Commonwealth Ave application was approved entirely, but only the rooftop vents were approved and the extension of the pavers was denied by the BBAC.