Several projects came before the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) on April 10 that will make significant changes to the Back Bay.
545 Boylston St.—Mural
At 545 Boylston St., Chris Tracy of O’Neill and Associates said that they are seeking a one year approval of a public art mural on the west wall of the property, which is owned by John Hancock. The proposed mural is 75 by 85 feet, and “is a nod to the marathon,” Tracy said. It depicts people running in the blue and yellow marathon colors, with the words “What Gets You to the Finish Line” written off to the right in blue.
Tracy said they want to have this artwork in place for two years, but are willing to come back to the BBAC for another approval after one year. The mural will be mounted on mesh vinyl, so light and air would be able to get through. There will be no mold or damage to the building, Tracy said, but in the instance that damage is done, the building would be fixed. The fasteners would go from one and one-quarter to one and one-half inches into the building, he said.
The Back Bay Association wrote a letter of support, and Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that while she believes “it’s a great place for a mural,” she said she is not a fan of the content. Though she accepts that she has “no right to comment on content,” she “wants to work together on a broader approach” for the mural’s appearance.
“I think the verbiage cheapens the iconic image that you’ve got,” Commissioner John Christiansen said. “I can’t vote for anything that has words on it.” He believes that appropriateness is something that they can vote on, even if they are not permitted to scrutinize the design. Commissioner Robert Weintraub said he likes the words.
After some more discussion, the Commission voted to approve the mural for one year and revisit it after that time is up.
827-829 Boylston St. —Storefront Restoration
The BBAC was pleasantly surprised by the proposal for this storefront that, according to Commissioner Patti Quinn, “has been an eyesore for so long.”
The applicants are looking to revamp the existing retail storefront with a “more cohesive and attractive finish,” one said. They are also looking to strip and resurface the original brownstone, as well as modify the sidewalk and curb for handicap access in the rear. “Our every intent is to try and bring it back to the original brick color,” the applicant said. An alternative option would be to apply another layer of paint, one that is “better and more consistent,” but the Commission really urged them to do everything in their power to strip the paint.
“My comment is hallelujah!” Patti Quinn said. “I’m just so happy.”
“This is such a nice proposal that I would urge the Commission to approve the removal of paint,” said Tom High from backbayhouses.org, adding that it would be a “major improvement” to that block of Boylston Street.
The Commission voted to approve the project with the contingency that all paint be removed to expose the brick. They are not permitted to repaint it without coming back to the Commission “with a good reason” and discuss paint color with them. They must also come back for a signage approval.
569 Boylston St. —Chick-fil-A
At 565 Boylston St., the site for the ZBA-approved Chick-fil-A restaurant, the proposal was not as successful. The building currently houses the Boloco restaurant. The applicant presented a proposal for the windows, roof equipment, and patio. He said that Chick-fil-A will be taking all four floors of the building. He said the patio would be replaced in kind, and they are proposing a bump-out for the first story only. They are proposing “very little change in the rear,” except to replace existing windows for energy efficiency.
He proposed the classic red Chick-fil-A logo on a bright white background, which was not too popular with the Commission. Commissioner Jerome CooperKing said that “even Dunkin’ (Donuts) was willing to work with us” when creating a facade in a historic district.
Commissioner David Eisen suggested changing the architecture of the front a little bit so the sign would be as large. Commissioner Robert Weintraub agreed that the “white background is not going to work—it has to be a more historic color,” he said.
BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor wanted to know what other colors have been used throughout the rest of the stores. The applicant said that they could do a “two inch surround of white” with the logo so they could still achieve that contrast.
CooperKing said that the applicant should come back with different options for the signage.
The roof equipment was also not favored by the Commission, as it can be seen from the street. Weintraub said that since they are gutting this building, they “have the opportunity” to make changes to the roof, such as reconfigure the equipment or figure out how to push them back further.
The Commission voted to deny this application without prejudice, which mean the applicant is allowed to come back with a different proposal.
272 Marlborough St.—Tree Removal
Bruce Godfrey, a trustee of 272 Marlborough St., proposed to remove a Norway Maple that sits in the front garden of the property and replace it with a flowering tree. He claimed that the tree “is completely inappropriate and out of scale for that sort of space.” He said they have tried numerous times to plant shade tolerant planting underneath it, but it will not survive.
“We want to plant a tree to allow the garden to be viable, and would take any advice on that,” Godfrey said. He said it has been pruned numerous times, and said that they have “received professional advice that we cannot plant anything under the tree that would live.”
The Garden Club of the Back Bay, however, had much different thoughts about the tree. Laurie Thomas of the Garden Club said that they oppose removal of the tree, as it does not meet any of the BBAC’s tree removal guidelines. She said they also disagree that the tree is out of scale, as it is about 40 feet tall, which is “a typical front garden tree.” They are also looking to preserve large, older trees, and this tree in particular is “unlike any other in Back Bay,” Thomas said. She said it is not an invasive species, it has reached maturity, and is considered a heritage tree or a specimen tree. She said it “needs special care and needs to be “pruned properly in order to keep it at its best.” With proper maintenance practices, she added, there are several species that can survive underneath this tree. A letter from the Garden Club lists a dozen or more plants that “should survive along this tree,” and Thomas suggested designing a garden around a raised planter as well.
She also mentioned that the Garden Club just completed a tree inventory, and they found that there are “hundreds” of dogwoods and magnolias, and they are concerned about a pest that might devastate the neighborhood. “Species diversity is important,” Thomas said, so that’s why they want to preserve this tree and not plant yet another magnolia or dogwood in the neighborhood.
“This is the only one we know in the Back Bay of this type of tree,” Thomas said.
Godfrey and a woman he was with said they would not consider planting anything else under the tree should the removal be denied. They said “it’s either mud or a new tree” for them.
Commissioner David Sampson said he is a fan of the tree, and Connor said that they should do some sort of a test with the Garden Club this spring to see if something grows under the tree.
The Commission said that they have always relied on the Garden Club to help them make informed decisions. They ultimately voted to deny the removal of the tree without prejudice and asked Godfrey to consult the Garden Club and explore other solutions for plantings below the tree.
The woman with Godfrey responded, “We’ve tried may things and you’re asking us to take action so it will remain the way it is.”