The Back Bay Architectural Commission met for its monthly meeting on March 11, just days before restrictions on group gatherings due to the coronavirus were implemented.
Several concerned neighbors showed up for what turned out to be a contentious proposal for Grand Tour bistro at 314 Newbury St.
Architect Tom Trykowski presented a proposal for an outdoor dining area, including six tables, 12 chairs, three umbrellas and string lighting, as well as the installation of a seasonal entry enclosure.
Trykowski said that the umbrellas would be custom-designed as half-umbrellas with an offset base and pole, and the string lights would be hanging below the railing line of the installed fence around the patio area and removed in the off-season. He added that the umbrellas “wouldn’t really stick up past the handrail line.”
The temporary entrance proposed would be used for the coldest months—January and February—and would consist of a rectangular frame covered in matte black canvas with windows. The purpose of the structure is to create a barrier between the cold and the restaurant. Trykowski said they tried to make the design as see-through as possible.
Commissioner John Christiansen said he believes curtains seem more appropriate, as he was not a fan of the design of the temporary entrance. “Part of the reason I don’t like it there…it masks what’s inside,” he said.
Other commissioners commented that since the temporary entrance would be up in the winter when there are no umbrellas on the patio, the obstruction of view into the restaurant would be minimal.
“There’s not a lot of space inside to get a curtain to work successfully,” Trykowski said. The owner of the restaurant also said that the Boston Fire Department “dislikes” the curtains, even if they are fireproof, as there are concerns with egress.
Commissioner David Eisen asked Trykowski if there are any “better looking alternatives” to the enclosure, as he felt “it’s just particularly ugly.”
Trykowski said that there could be a discussion on the canvas being some made of another type of material.
BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor said she is worried that the structure “diminishes the entrance” to the restaurant, and suggested that something like topiaries with white lights.
Trykowski said they also looked at different shapes for the enclosure, such as an arced top. “But I felt with the banding on the building it was better to hold a straight line on the band,” he said. It is slightly sloped on the top so that water can come off of it. “I wanted it to be as simple of a structure as possible,” he added.
The public had a lot to say about this proposal, especially abutters. Connor read two letters from neighbors for the record, both in objection against the plan.
Rachel Walsh, who owns a business on the lower level of 306 Newbury St., said that she and several other businesses have been impacted by the construction of the patio, and prior to the architectural changes to the site at 314 Newbury St., “the line of sight (to her business) was uninhibited. The addition of the patio has permanently affected our visibility by the installation of the railing system,” she said. She said that though the railing is transparent, it still resulted in a “significant” reduction of visibility. She added that she believes the seasonal vestibule will create further obstruction.
Another abutter from a nearby residential building said that they were concerned about light pollution from the string lights affecting their building.
“I think the lights make sense as the temporary vestibule makes sense,” said Tom High of backbayhouses.org. He did add that the vestibule “should be as transparent as possible,” but he thinks this is a “reasonable solution.”
Sue Prindle,a NABB member, agreed that the vestibule is a good solution, but she was concerned that the umbrellas block the view into the restaurant.
Alex Mancebo, a resident at 308 Newbury St., said that it “would be an injustice to not listen to the neighbors. We are clamoring for recourse here and we don’t see it.”
The BBAC ultimately voted to approve the vestibule with the proviso that it does not set a precedent for the district. Staff will approve the final design of both the vestibule and the umbrellas, but they said they would like to see shorter umbrellas and more plexiglass on the vestibule for more visibility into the restaurant. The string lights were not approved.
“It’s important to have a good neighbor moment,” Connor said to the applicants.