Taj Hotel Renovations Proposed, Back Bay Concerned with Alleyway

The Taj Boston Hotel announced on March 11 that they have filed plans with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to make renovations to the interior and exterior of the building, including moving the current Arlington Street entrance to Newbury St. On March 27, the BPDA held a public meeting to provide the public with the details of the proposal, as well as give people a chance to ask questions and make comments.

Alfred Wojciechowski of CBT architects presented the proposal. He began the proposal by saying that the ground floor of the hotel will “remain centrally intact,” but the cafe will move to the second floor. The current cafe space will become retail. Wojciechowski added that all of the guest rooms are being renovated to have a more modern residential feel, and the current rooftop space will be enclosed to provide a year-round space.

As far as the outside goes, Wojciechowski said, “the biggest change is the experience on the sidewalk level,” relocating the main entrance to the Newbury Street side of the building. The new entrance will feature planters with landscaping, widened sloped sidewalks, and turning the current bay window into a box bay window. They are also proposing additional awnings on the upper level, he said.

Wojciechowski said that the sidewalk along the Arlington Street side will be improved as well, and the stone work and planters will be refurbished so they have a “residential quality,” he said. There will also be alley improvements for the trash and compost collection and pickup, and new street trees.

Taj Boston General Manager Carlos Bueno said that the details of the new restaurant space on the second floor were still being worked out, but the space will “definitely” be a hotel-run restaurant.

Jackie Yessian from the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay said that they were concerned with several zoning issues, including that no Floor Area Ratio (FAR) analysis was provided so the NABB zoning chair provided one. Yessian said that NABB believes the building already goes over the allowable FAR, and enclosing the roof space “will further increase the violation.”

The project team said that the existing FAR is being maintained in the proposal, as is the setback and the height. They said that the Project Notification Form that was filed with the BPDA provides a breakdown of the square footage per use, and from a zoning perspective, the square footage of the rooftop space as it exists now counts towards the FAR.

There was a concern about the ramp outside the entrance for wheelchair accessibility and luggage, as it is “so close to the corner, it will cause some pedestrian commotion,” someone said. They suggested that the team rethink pushing the ramp closer to the door to the entrance.

The alleyway was the portion of the proposal that people seemed to take the most issue with. One person said that those residents and businesses that abut the alley “have lived with a concern over life safety,” as there is often an obstruction of access to their houses and businesses, largely from trucks servicing the hotel.

Sue Prindle of NABB said that there is “a lot that I like about this proposal,” but it “comes down to the scope of the review process,” she said. “The overriding issue is the longstanding concern about the use of the alley,” she added, saying that she has been hearing about it for 30 years and the time to do something about it is now.

Elliot Laffer, also of NABB, was concerned about moving the entrance to Newbury Street and the traffic problems it may cause. He said that cars will now have to go up Newbury Street towards Berkeley Street, and that the proponents need to address the dropoff/pickup zone as well to alleviate traffic congestion issues. Laffer also wanted to know who would be managing the proposed patio area outside the front entrance, as it could easily attract unwanted people. Buenos responded by saying that the hotel will be managing that space.

Robert Hayes, who lives near the alley, said he has “no problem with the architecture—it’s stunning,” but he thinks that more people will come in and out of the hotel after the renovations, which means more delivery and more waste. He called it a “safety problem and a danger,” and a “civic responsibility” that needs to be addressed.

Buenos said that in the alleyway, they have removed equipment and other items that do not need to be there, which leaves receptacles for recycling and trash. He said that the new dumpster will be able to take recycling and trash, so one side will no longer be blocked. “We are looking for other ways to improve,” he said. The alley currently has two cameras, and they will be adding two more for a total of four cameras. This way, they will be able to monitor when a truck arrives in the alley so someone can be there to greet them and move the process along more swiftly.

The BPDA is looking for public comments related to this proposal. All materials for the proposal can be found on the BPDA website, and comments can either be submitted on the website or directed to Project Manager Michael Sinatra at [email protected]. The comment period ends April 11.

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