BBAC Holds First Virtual Hearing on May 13

The Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) met virtually for the first time on May 13, where project proponents were able to remotely present their proposals via Zoom.

545 Boylston St.

At 545 Boylston St, applicant Kathryn Lampes proposed an extension of the Boston Marathon mural from April 11, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The building at 545 Boylston St. has a new owner, who would like to extend the approval of the banner through the new date for the Boston Marathon, which is set for September 14.

The mural features silhouettes of runners in light blue and dark blue with a horse in the background, as well as text that reads “What Gets You to the Finish Line?”

“Our proposal is to keep the banner up until the end of the year,” Lampes said. “We think it’s a great, encouraging banner, so we hope that it stays.”

She said that they believe the banner is keeping water from entering the building, so there will be some concerns and building repairs needed once it is removed.

“To me, it’s too overpowering unless it has a more limited purpose,” said Commissioner John Christiansen. “The message right now is it’s just too dominant.”

Commissioner Robert Weintraub reiterated that the proposal was just to extend it through the rest of the year. “It seems to make sense to extend it to December,” he said, “to get it through the marathon.”

Lampes said that the new building owners “do not have any plans as of yet to put up a new mural,” as the repairs will probably take around a year to complete.

The Commission voted to approve this proposal.

15 Arlington St.

At 15 Arlington St., Jason Perillo presented a proposal for the Newbury Boston Hotel, formerly the Taj Hotel, to in stall an awning and a blade sign at the Newbury St. elevation.

“This is for the specifics for the Banino’s sign,” Perillo explained. The blade sign would be black aluminum with painted graphics, and the proposed awning would be shed style, and made of Sunbrella fabric with painted graphics. The awning would be green fabric with cream lettering.

“I’m not excited about the black blade sign next to the green awning,” said Commissioner Jerome CooperKing. Commissioner Robert Weintraub agreed, saying that “it doesn’t scale properly.”

Christina Zimmer, Vice President of Design at Highgate, said that the blade sign would be visible if someone is coming up Newbury St.

“My understanding today was showing the specifics of the sign and awning,” she said, adding that she believes the concept for a sign and awning were approved in concept at a previous BBAC hearing regarding this hotel’s rebranding and renovations.

“Just the signage for the hotel was approved in the past,” said Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission. “We didn’t talk about these locations.”

Several other Commissioners agreed, saying that they did not recall the approval of these signs in concept, but Cornish said he would check the records to confirm exactly what had been approved in the past.

“I like the awning; I’m just hesitant about the blade sign,” CooperKing said. Commissioner Genia Demetriades agreed.

Li Wang of CBT Architects said that the signage package presented in November included a proposed blade sign on new Newbury St. facade.

“When we had the signage approval completed, there was a blade sign on that building that signified a future retail tenant,” he said, that was shown “somewhere in that general location.” He said he did not recall providing a dimension for the sign.

“We wouldn’t have approved a blade sign without any dimensions,” CooperKing said.

“In that case, if Li is correct, a blade sign was approved in that location but not necessarily the blade sign we approved,” Cornish said.

The Commission overall agreed that the proposed location for the sign was not good, and public comment from Jackie Yessian echoed this sentiment. She said that she also does not believe the blade sign was part of the original application “and is not desirable.”

The Commission ultimately voted to approve the proposed awning, but continue the blade sign  to another hearing for further discussion.

177 Newbury Street

At 177 Newbury St., architect Tom Trykowski proposed a redesigned front entry garden to the lower level retail space.

“We;re looking at redoing the garden entry to come in off of the sidewalk,” Trykowski said. Right now, there is a three foot brick area at the right sidewalk where Trykowski said the new entry to the staircase will go.

He also proposed new railings and planters, and while specifics of signage will be approved at another hearing as there is no tenant yet, Trykowski was looking for a signage approval in concept to present to a potential tenant. He wanted the potential to hang signage in the windows on the flanking storefront, similar to Credo which is the ground level store up above. He also asked for the ability to have a sign to cover the entire doorway with, as there is “not a lot of architectural meat there to mount letters.”

Commissioner John Christiansen said he would like the signage to reflect the storefront above, but Commissioner Jerome CooperKing said that it’s “too small if it reflects what’s above.”

Commissioner Genia Demetriades said, “I don’t think it needs to echo it. We have to be practical so someone can rent the space.” She said she understands that some store names may be longer than others and the details of the signage will have to be considered in their own application as it is a case-by-case basis.

Trykowski said that this space has only had popups recently, and “everyone has talked about the lack of opportunity for decent signage.”

The Commission wanted Trykowski to “thin” up the walkway so it wasn’t so wide leading down to the garden level entry, but to also lighten up the rail so it could still be seen through as well as show more greenery.

Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that she “appreciates the narrowing of the front entrance,” as the proposed “started to look like the dominant entrance to the building and that threw everyone off. Having it match the one at 179 [Newb ury] would be an improvement.”

The Commission approved the proposal, subject to reducing the width of the opening to five feet, as well as having a “lightened” but still “substantial” railing.

199 Commonwealth Ave and 29 Commonwealth Ave.

At 199 Commonwealth Ave., the proposal was to remove the existing cherry tree and replace it with a crabapple tree. The Garden Club of the Back Bay submitted a letter saying that it “does not oppose” the removal of the tree. The Commission voted to approve the removal of the tree, remanding the species and the caliper of the new tree to the Garden Club, and also said that this is not to be a precedent in the neighborhood.

At 29 Commonwealth Avenue, architect Guy Grassi proposed to install a new headhouse, roof deck, mechanical screening, cabinetry and appliances, a spa tub, and a fire bowl on the roof.

Grassi said that there is a buyer for this building, and he will “make sure that whatever it is they want to do won’t be higher than the railing system that was approved,” and that “everything ins in  the original footprint of the deck.

He said that none of the roof kitchen bar and cabinetry were higher than the railing system, and the hot tub would be copper clad.

After going through each piece of the proposal in greater detail, the Commission approved the proposal with the provisos that the screen wall to the north would be allowed to be as high as the heat pump, which is five feet four inches, and the remaining railing and planters are to be no higher than between three feet eight inches and four feet six inches, and planters should be installed to the left of the hot tub. 

126 Marlborough Street

The last proposal was for 126 Marlborough St., where architect Ellen Perko proposed to remove the existing headhouse and deck and construct a penthouse and deck.

Perko said that the existing headhouse on the roof is “narrow” and the stairs are steep. She proposed a deck in front and a “small area” on the back for mechanicals.

The mockup is visible from the neighbor’s entryway on Marlborough St. as well as Alley 424.

“It’s so visible,” Commissioner Genia Demetriades said. “Why are we even considering it?”

Abutting neighbor Paul Mammola said that the new structure “is not small by any means.” He said that it would be “by far the largest on the block in terms of roof access structure,” and called it “out of proportion and step with others in the area.”

He said it was “very visible” from the street and “moreso from the park.” 

Marie Lefton, another abutter on Commonwealth Avenue was also opposed, saying that “if built, the structure would detract from the neighborhood look and feel” of surrounding homes. Sue Prindle of NABB was also opposed as was another abutter.

The Commission voted to deny this proposal without prejudice, meaning that the applicant can come back before the Commission with a different proposal.

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