BBAC, Public Provide Feedback on Harvard Club Proposal

The project team for the proposed development project at the Harvard Club at 415 Newbury St. came before the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) for an advisory review on March 11. An advisory review lets the Commission, and sometimes the public, provide feedback on a proposal, but there is no vote taken.

The project consists of the demolition of the existing rear addition and the construction of a new addition, as well as another building on the existing parking lot.

Abby Goldenfarb of Trinity Financial said the purpose of the project is to upgrade the Harvard Club’s athletic facilities.

“We have had conversations with the community about our initial concept,” she said, “and we have changed our concept since that time and today want to get a sense of feedback on the demolition of the squash building.”

Architect Alfred Wojciechowski of CBT Architects said that the surface parking lot along Newbury Street would be infilled with a 120-foot building and a 36-foot building along the edge, but access to the current alley would remain in place. The existing squash courts would also be removed.

“The massing that we have here,” Wojciechowski said, has been discussed in a series of meetings with the immediate abutters to the project. He said there is an interest in having a lower building along the surface parking lot to allow light and air to permeate into the buildings on Commonwealth Avenue.

The proposed mixed-use building would replace the fitness and squash courts and be accessible with a front door on Newbury Street. It would also include a residential piece. The taller building will be 11 stories, while the shorter one would be three stories. Parking would be in the three-story building.

Wojciechowski said that the masonry would be complementary to the brick within the rest of the neighborhood. Additionally, he said the team hopes to create “a nice pedestrian walking situation along Newbury Street.”

Commissioner John Christiansen said of the taller building, “My gut reaction massing-wise is that it’s too high. I see it more like the Somerset at more like 90 feet.”

Commissioner Robert Weintraub said he agrees with the three-story building, as “this is kind of a dead area,” and this development “could bring it back to life.” He did say, however, that he would like the monotony of the buildings to be downgraded.

BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor said she agrees that the design is somewhat monolithic. She said the historic reference and heritage of the Harvard Club is significant, and “something could be brought to that level on the exterior” of the new buildings.

“I want to emphasize that this is a very important project because of the zoning implication,” Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay said. “There has not been any kind of variance within the historic district since the zoning was created.” She also said the depth of the tower was an issue for her as well.

“I think it’s wonderful that this area is going to be filled with some buildings,” said Tom High of backbayhouses.org. He said it was both a good idea and a mistake to look at the proposed development for Parcel 12 in relation to this project. “It’s very important to look at this building and its impact without Parcel 12 behind it, and none of these drawings do that,” he said.

Jim Berkman, who is soon to be sworn into the BBAC, suggested that the architects might play with height variations to have step downs and have the building be more than one height to make it more interesting.

An abutter said that light is important to the neighbors, and they would like to see no light blocking their building. Margaret Pokorny, a member of several local groups, including the Friends of the Public Garden and the Charlesgate Alliance, said she is very excited about the reactivation of the street, as it will become one of the new entrances to Charlesgate Park.

Wojciechowski said that they would be following Boston’s Complete Streets guidelines.

BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor read letters into the record, many in opposition of the development, but some in support of the ongoing public process.

Additionally, the project is not as-of-right, so they team will need zoning approval before coming back to the BBAC for an official vote.

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