BBAC Approves New Algonquin Club Proposal, with Provisions

Hold that martini, the disagreements over the Algonquin Club proposal still have yet to be put completely to rest.

Architect Guy Grassi returned before the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) on October 10 to present his changes to a previous proposal which was denied by the Commission and disliked by much of the community.

At the September hearing, the Commission approved everything in the proposal except for the rooftop, which he was asked to make less visible.

Instead of the original proposal to extend the elevator to the rooftop level, Grassi proposed to construct a handicapped lift instead, which would only need eight feet of clearance instead of the 14.5 feet of clearance the other elevator would have. While it would be nice to have elevator access to the roof for everyone, Grassi said, this was what he could come up with to make things on the roof less visible while still making the rooftop accessible.

Grassi said that the upper 1.5 to 2 feet of this new elevator would be visible from the far side of the Commonwealth Mall, but added that some of the current elevator shaft is also visible.

The previously proposed section of glass screen that faced Commonwealth Avenue was not popular among many community members, and Grassi said that piece would now be removed as acoustic studies showed that it would not do much for the reduction of sound anyway.

BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor read 11 letters of testimony against the new proposal into the record.

Sue Prindle from the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that she “strongly disagrees” with the proposal, saying that district guidelines are clear about rooftop additions and that she believes the guidelines need to be upheld.

“While these changes move in the right direction, and I applaud them, more needs to be done to address the visibility,” Prindle said. She added that she would like to see nothing visible from Commonwealth Avenue in a new proposal by the November hearing.

She also still does not agree with glass being used as the material for the enclosure of the roof deck, and said she hopes the Commission will “explore other materials for the enclosure.”

“I’m very pleased that it is moving in the right direction,” said Tom High from backbayhouses.org. “The problem is we can’t see how much of the new additions will be visible.”

With the leaves on the trees, it’s hard to see the mockups in certain areas. He, too, was also concerned with glass being used for the walls.

“I wouldn’t be hesitant to deny the glass walls,” he told the Commission.

“This is too important a building not to get it right,” said Susan Shafer from NABB. She said that showing two feet of the top of the elevator is “not the right approach,” and also said that making the roof deck smaller would not “make or break the project.”

Shafer said the elevator could be moved in closer and a roof deck could still exist.

“That would be a great solution to solving all of those problems,” she said.

An abutter spoke about her concern for reflective glass shining into her face, as well as the mechanical equipment being so close to the edge of the building. She said that she can see the entire west wall and the entire north wall of the Algonquin Club from her building.

“I think what you’re seeing is the mockup of the railing that will hide the mechanical equipment from your view,” Grassi told her.

“It’s disheartening that a commercial outfit is not adhering to the guidelines,” said Vicki Smith of NABB. “We never asked for a glass wall—our acoustical study shows that glass will not really cut the noise.”

She also said that despite numerous efforts, there is still no residential neighborhood agreement.

Commissioner Robert Weintraub made a motion to approve the proposal with the proviso that the glass be substituted with another material, all details be submitted to staff, and that Grassi come back to the Commission with any issues.

The motion was approved.

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