Roof decks proved to be a sticking point once more at the South End Landmark District hearing on Jan. 2. John Meunier and Jim Flanagan, both 30-year South End residents came before the Commission to reconfigure the existing rear dormer and relocate the roof deck to the rear dormer on their property at 45 West Newton St.
Staff preservationist Nick Armata made a site visit on Dec. 6, 2018, and modifications to the proposal were made as a result of his visit.
The homeowners said that the current dormer is “dilapidated,” and would like to reconfigure it and make it more attractive, as well as pull it back an additional two feet from the rear of the building. This would align it with adjacent buildings. They would also like to raise the edge of the dormer to accommodate their desired internal ceiling height. The dormer that they are modifying has already been altered.
The previously approved roof deck, which is located on the top of the building, is proposed to be relocated to the rear dormer. They are also taking mitigating steps that are being handled at the administrative level, the homeowners said, which includes the removal of an HVAC unit, as well as two satellite dishes that are attached to the existing dormer.
David Freed, the architect for the project, said that the new dormer would be less visible from the street, and the homeowners would like to have “beautiful tall doors” as part of the fenestration on the back. There is also a new metal staircase being proposed for access between the upper and lower decks, which was not popular among the commissioners.
Commissioner John Amodeo said the staircase “will be the most distracting part,” and urged the homeowners to explore alternatives.
“Removing a piece of the roof so you can create a roof deck is a long distance for us to go,” he added. “‘Minimally visible’ is a major concession’” already, he continued, and the “staircase may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Commissioner Peter Sanborn said that “this would be an easier process for us if you lowered the height of the dormer,” and told the homeowners that they should “give serious investigation to internal access to the deck.”
The Commission as a whole was having a tough time with the seemingly small amount of visibility on the roof deck. “Regulations don’t allow change to the sky profile; this is a significant change to the sky profile,” said Commissioner John Freeman. “We usually don’t allow a roof deck on a dormer.”
Amodeo said that if they do end up approving the modification to the dormer, he agreed with Sanborn that lowering the roof height so the deck would be less visible would “make this more approvable.”
He also said that the asymmetry of the door placement is “distracting and not in keeping with what one finds on the back of dormers.” He said if they are allowing the modification of a dormer, it should look closer to what is typical in the district rather than bringing it farther away from it.
“Pushing the dormer farther to the right, spacing it more appropriately would all help, I have less problem with the lower deck,” Freeman said.
Amodeo requested that the homeowners return before the Commission next month with more information. “The more information you give us, the easier it is for yourself,” he said. He said that proposing alternatives will help them achieve a faster resolution.
The Commission voted to approve the dormer in concept with the approximate configuration as shown in the elevation—set back from the rear wall; dimensions are still to be worked out. They asked the homeowners to return with elevations that show concepts that were discussed at this hearing and represent in some way the configuration of dormers typical in the South End.
They did not approve the decks, railings, or access to the decks at this hearing, and the homeowners were encouraged to bring back new proposals at next month’s hearing. For the proposed doors, the homeowners were told to create a sill level with a solid panel below it that makes it appear more like a window.