The Zoning Board of Appeal heard a re-discussion of the proposed project at 217 Commonwealth Ave., better known as the Algonquin Club, at its July 31 hearing. Real estate lawyer Mike Ross from Prince Lobel represented Sandy Edgerley from Hexagon Properties, the developer for the project.
The Algonquin Club has been a private club for 130 years, and is proposed to continue as such as a condition of the sale to Hexagon Properties. However, the club currently suffers from deferred maintenance and does not have enough members to support itself. At the hearing on Tuesday morning, the Board voted to grant the requested relief to the applicant.
As far as the violations for the project go, Ross said that the conditional use permit would be to extend the non-conformity due to an increase in guest rooms—from six to 10—and the proposed roof deck. They requested a variance for excessive FAR due to the proposed fitness center in the basement, as well as a variance for a side yard and a rear yard.
Ross said that in order to turn this club back into a place that people would want to attend, they need to have a larger fitness room, because the current one is too small.
The Algonquin Club is also part of the Groundwater Conservation Overlay District, so the project is required to have a letter of no impact from the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, which the Board has received.
Ross said that Hexagon Properties has staged a number of efforts to mitigate concerns from the community, and that the number one concern is related to sound—both sound traveling from the roof and sound traveling through the walls. An MIT expert was brought on to conduct a study related to sound in the area.
Ross said that they’re in the process of working out an agreement with the neighborhood and are proposing that the roof would shut down at 10:30 on weekdays and 11:30 on weekends.
The 1,300 square foot roof deck would also be built into the roof itself in an effort to mitigate concerns of noise. The MIT report found that the proposed glass screen around the roof deck and the fact that it is set into the roof means that abutters will not be impacted by the noise, Ross said.
They measured noise at a typical patio restaurant to determine the expected sound level, which was determined to be a level that was exceeded only 10-percent of the time. A loudspeaker was also placed on the roof of the Algonquin Club and the sound level was measured from three different locations: one at 215 Commonwealth Ave., and two on the roof of 223 Commonwealth Ave. to determine how much the sound had decreased through distance. Background sound was also measured on those roofs.
It was found that the overall resulting sound-levels were below the ambient noise, though there are times where the ambient noise will be quieter. There will be no live music on the roof. Instead, there will be numerous high-tech speakers to provide music to members.
Ross said there were other community concerns about things like trash, rodents, and traffic. He said that they are planning on taking the dumpster that sits outside and bringing it inside to create an indoor refrigerated trash room. To mitigate traffic concerns, he said that they have agreed to hire a full-time door person and a receiving manager to ensure that delivery runs smoothly.
Ross said that the current assembly number for the club is around 750, but he said that the goal is to increase the capacity.
“Without it, the club won’t survive,” Ross said.
Several elected officials and community members testified both in support and in opposition of the project.
Yissel Gurrero from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services said that the office supports this project. Guerrero said that a joint public meeting was held with the office and the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB)’s Architectural Commission and zoning and licensing use, in which they heard questions and concerns from abutters. Many of these concerns are now reflected in the current proposal, she said.
Bill Mote is a community member who lives a block and a half away from the building, and is also an Algonquin Club member. He said that the club “is a gem of our whole society here and we believe it needs to be supported as such.”
A representative on behalf of State Rep. Jay Livingstone read a letter from the Representative stating that he does not support the roof deck, as he is worried about the concerns from the abutters. However, he said in the letter that he generally supports the rest of the application.
Eugene Kelly lives on Commonwealth Avenue and is a substitute member of the Zoning Board of Appeal. He opposes the entire project.
“The Algonquin Club has failed financially,” he said, and does not think a club is appropriate in a residential neighborhood in the Back Bay. “I think to even consider this use is a mistake,” he said.
After hearing testimonies of both support and concern, Board member Anthony Pisari made a motion to grant the relief requested, which was approved by the rest of the Board.
“I am impressed by the amount of stuff that has been done on both sides,” he said, “and I do believe that with monitoring technology that the major issue of sound can adequately be addressed.”
Other downtown projects that were approved at the hearing were:
A demo facade from the fourth floor down to the foundation, the installation of a new foundation wall, and the reconstruction of the masonry facade up to the fifth floor in four different buildings (142, 144, 146, and 148 Hemenway St.
At 142 Beacon Street, a change in occupancy from a six-family dwelling to a three-family dwelling with a total gut renovation, a new garage and bedroom and breakfast room additions. Christian Simonelli from the Boston Groundwater Trust said they received the review by Boston Water and Sewer. The project was approved by the Board.
A change of occupancy from eight units to two units with a full gut remodel and penthouse and rear one story addition at 212 Commonwealth Ave. was deferred until the hearing on Sept. 11.