BBAC Approves Condensers, Screening Wall; Denies Penthouse

The Back Bay Architectural Commission met virtually on July 8, where only three projects were on the docket for design review at 285 Clarendon St., 184 Beacon St., and 126 Marlborough St.

285 Clarendon St.

At 285 Clarendon St., applicant Katherine Spriggs presented several options for the installation of air conditioning condensers on the roof of the building.

The existing roof condition has one condenser on the Beacon St. side and two on the back on the alley side, she said, and presented three different proposed locations for the new equipment.

Location A was Sprigg’s preferred location, as the downstairs neighbor said it would cause the least amount of noise. In this location, the condensers would be located a few feet from the edge of the building, which would make them susceptible to visibility from Clarendon St., which goes against the Commission’s guidelines.

Location B puts the equipment more in the center of the building, which would make it less visible from a public way. Spriggs said that this plan came with more concern from the neighbor about vibrations from the equipment causing noise in the unit below.

Location C puts the equipment more than 10 feet from the edge and would be somewhat hidden by existing units, but upon further inspection by the Commissioners, they realized it would be more visible in a certain location than Location B.

The Commission asked Spriggs if there were ways to mitigate the noise from the condensers by the way they are mounted, which she said there was, as they preferred Location B over the other two.

Commissioner Jerome CooperKing said he likes Location B “because it’s off the edge of the roof.”

When discussing Location A, he said, “you’re adding to that stack that’s already close to the edge. I’ve got a little bit of an issue with that, especially if there’s room available in the center of the building.”

Sue Prindle from the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that the organization’s Architecture Committee “felt that B was the best solution and the contractor should be able to deal with the noise issue.”

The Commission ultimately voted to approve Location B, and said that the new units should be a grayish color to match both the sky and the existing units.

184 Beacon St.

At 184 Beacon St., Alison Cutler of Adams & Beasley Associates proposed to reconfigure roof deck railings and install a screening wall at the rear addition.

“The railings on the east and west elevation are now sitting on top of the parapet wall,” Cutler said, and proposed a screening wall on the south elevation to hide the grill and its hard piping from the kitchen and master bedroom windows.

She said that the screening wall would be located just above the railing at about 4 feet tall, and was proposed to be made out of copper to match the copper gutters and parapet wall.

“It wouldn’t be a bad thing to try to integrate this into the handrail,” said Commissioner Jerome CooperKing, adding that doing so would make it “a little more seamless.” He also said that if it were to be copper, it should be slightly larger and line up with the door and grill on the facade below.

“We could set the wall behind the railing that currently exists,” Cutler said. She also said a darker material may work better in reducing the visibility of the transition between the railing and the screening wall.

Commissioner David Eisen suggested painting the wall black and running it behind the railing “instead of making it a feature piece.”

The Commission decided to approve the proposal with the proviso that the wall is painted black and is “integrated in some way” with the existing railing. The width will also be reduced “as much as possible.”

126 Marlborough St.

Ellen Perko of CBT architects proposed to install a headhouse, mechanical equipment, and outdoor kitchen at the roof of 126 Marlborough St. A proposal for this project was previously heard at the May hearing, where it was denied without prejudice by the Commission.

Perko said at the July 8 hearting that the original proposal for the penthouse has been reduced to a “headhouse only” with a “stair enclosure similar to the one approved at 128 Marlborough,” she said.

She said that the current headhouse is narrow and steep and does not comply with code. The proposed headhouse includes windows and a stair inside the structure to access the roof deck. The proposed headhouse is “a little over” 13 feet by 10 feet, 7 inches, Perko said.

“We kept it to the narrowest confines of what it can be at this point,” she added. “We feel we have pushed it as small as we can get it. There is not a lot of latitude to push it forwards or backwards.”

The headhouse contains a landing, which Commissioner Jim Berkman said was not necessary, and Commissioner Genia Demetriades agreed with him. She added that the number of windows proposed was also not necessary.

“The headhouse should be a standing seam copper with punched out windows to reduce glare,” said Commissioner Robert Weintraub.

Perko said the existing outdoor kitchen and other items are all being reconfigured towards the center of the roof so they are less visible.

Neighbor Marie Lefton said that this proposed plan is :”somewhat smaller,” but she doesn’t believe it fits within the Commission’s guidelines. She said she “vigorously opposes” this project and asked the Commission to deny it without prejudice.

She said that the “plan still describes a penthouse” rather than a headhouse, and will block light from the surrounding area. She said she is also concerned about setting a “dangerous precedent” in the neighborhood.

Sue Prindle of NABB said that the Architecture Committee “reviewed this very carefully” and said that lowering the back towards the alley would be better.

“There are too many variables in this,” Tom High of backbayhouses.org said. “It is clearly visible when the leaves are off [the trees].” He said that the way the proposed headhouse is designed, it will be visible from a public way.

“I would urge the Commission to deny this without prejudice and take a look at a new mockup,” High said. “Any new proposal should not be as glassy as the current proposal is.

The Commission voted to deny the headhouse without prejudice, saying the applicant will have to come back in the fall when the leaves are off of the trees and present a new mockup. The other components of the proposal were approved, including the roof deck with the proviso that it “doesn’t exceed the inner width of the chimneys.”

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