The Back Bay Architectural Commission met virtually on June 10, where they welcomed new Commissioners Ethel MacLeod, James Berkman, Meredith Christiansen, and Zsuzsanna Gaspar. Patti Quinn is no longer a member of the Commission, and the rest of the members thanked her for her service. Jerome CooperKing is also now a full member instead of an alternate.
827-829 Boylston Street
The first proposal heard was one for the front facade of 827-829 Boylston St., where architect John Lafreniere wanted to install an inclined lift to access the lower level of 827 Boylston St.
“We’re in the process of reframing the openings for the Sir Speedy and Super Cuts,” Lafreniere said, which are located at these addresses.
This is new work added to previously approved work, and includes railings down the inside of the stair and a box that contains motors that drive the inclined lift. When the lift is all the way up, it sits over the stairs, he said.
“We decided it’s going to work better as a single tenant,” Lafreniere said of the building, so it is “going to be combined and this will be the access for both on the lower floor.”
The project was approved by the Commission.
73 Marlborough Street
Zack St. George and his wife proposed to install a gas line at the sidewall of the rear elevation of 73 Marlborough St., which was ultimately denied without prejudice by the Commission.
St. George said that he and his wife are the owners of Unit 6 in the building, and are updating the kitchen with hopes of running a gas line up the side of the building in the rear, which is located on Alley 420.
“That will feed right into the kitchen to be used for a stovetop,” he said. “Due to the layout of the building, not every floor is the same” and they’ve been set up in different ways,” St. George said. As a result, the gas line would have to be “snaked up through people’s walls” if it was run internally. “There’s not a clear path to Unit 6,” he said.
He said that there is also gas in the building, but thinks it only reaches the first and second floors. His wife mentioned that they have received consent from all of their neighbors to run the line on the back of the building, and added that it is “not our preference to install an electric stovetop.”
Commissioner Robert Weintraub suggested that the line be encased in a copper downspout from the roof to the ground, as this has been done in the past for things like cable and plumbing lines.
“Personally, I think that would look nice and maybe permissible if the other Commissioners would agree,” he said.
“I’m concerned it would open a can of worms,” said Commissioner David Sampson.
Commissioner Genia Demetriades said that she has an “issue doing this just for a cooktop. In the past, it’s been for HVAC systems that they can’t figure out how to do it or a bigger issue” for something like exhaust plumbing. “I think it sets a dangerous precedent that we typically haven’t approved before,” she said.
After some more discussion, the Commission voted to deny this application without prejudice, meaning that the applicant can come back with a different proposal.
223 Commonwealth Avenue
Applicant Ron Payne proposed to replace all windows at 223 Commonwealth Ave. in-kind, as well as to remove the rear addition and install a garage door opening and at the roof, re-clad the elevator overrun, install a headhouse, roof deck and air conditioning condensers.
Payne proposed curved sashes on all of the bay windows, as well as remove the rear el on grade along the West side of the building and return the whole bay from top to bottom to its original shape, among other things.
The Commission approved the project with the provisos that window details and railing location be determined by staff, as well as the magnolia tree in the front be preserved and the applicant should consult with the Garden Club of the Back Bay for the back tree.
321-323 Marlborough St.
At 321-232 Marlborough St., applicant Michael McClung proposed to combine the two rowhouses into a single family residence, which includes restoration of numerous exterior features such as re-landscaping of front gardens and rear yards, removal of fire balconies, installation of garage door opening and on the roof, install mechanical equipment, construct a penthouse addition, roof deck, and elevator override.
McClung explained in detail how the facade would be restored to its historic look, as much of the detail has been removed with a concrete saw and grinder. “The ornamentation has been taken away from the building,” he said.
He said he would be doing a “faithful restoration of the facade,” including restoring the front doors to their original condition “if they are stable enough to do so.”
He said the rear facade is not original, as the doors used to be seven feet and now they are five feet, which he said “meets the criteria of not being an original facade.”
Right now, the buildings are configured as multiple apartments. He said the zoning would be changed to reflect it going to a single family house.
“Clearly the owner has a passion for restoration to its original facade,” Weintraub said.
There was some discussion about the rear and some of the things that were proposed, especially the garage, as there is not one existing, as well as a garden door.
Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, said he was appreciative of the “fact that there is so much restoration going on in the front,” but he said that “this strikes me as being a very pure rear,” so there were some concerns about proposals for the rear since it is largely untouched.
McClung said that the owners don’t want to proceed with the project if they are not allowed to have the garage and garden door.
Weintraub said that aside from preserving the history of the district, the Commission’s goal is also to protect the longevity and safety of the community. For that reason, he said that the garage is a significant safety feature for the owners, and believes they should be able to have the garage.
There was also some discussion about the roof and its visibility. Cornish said that he is “less concerned about the roof,” but he does want to see the mockup when the tree is not in bloom to see if the railing needs to be pushed back.
Sally McGinty, a neighbor who lives across the street from the project, said that the penthouse will be visible from her unit, calling it “a bit of sky theft.” She said that while the penthouse and railing might be conforming with the guidelines from the street, it will invade her view from her home.
There were two letters of support submitted, and another neighbor across the street said they were “very supportive of it.”
Tom High from backbayhouses.org said that the rear facade has been “altered by virtue of the asphalt being added at the base.” He said that he believes that the facade is restorable if it has been asphalted over, and the “Commissions have only classified rear facades if they are pristine or have reversible changes like fire escapes, conduits, or a small amount of asphalt covering the lower brick.”
Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay said that she is “impressed with the renovations, but she is “concerned about the proposed openings in the rear facade,” the size of the rear balcony and deck, the tree in the rear yard, and the penthouse addition.
Laurie Thomas of the Garden Club of the Back Bay said that “neither of the trees the applicants are proposing to move meet any of the criteria for removal. Both are perfectly healthy trees.”
The Commission voted four to two with three abstentions to approve the project with details regarding the penthouse to staff and details regarding the hardscape including the landscape were remanded to the Garden Club of the Back Bay. The Commissioners also made it clear that the approved work would not be a precedent in the district.
“There is so much restoration to the front and rear facade,” Weintraub said, who moved to “accept the garage given all the other restoration and improvements to this building.” Connor added, that it was a “difficult decision.”