BBAC Subcommittee Recommends Approval to Full Commission for 149 Newbury St. Proposal

A subcommittee of the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) met virtually on May 5 to continue discussion of the proposed five story building on the lot at 149 Newbury St.

Architect Haril Pandya said that at previous meetings, the design team “received a lot of really great comments” that it has tried to incorporate into the latest iteration of the design.

Pandya spoke about different aspects of the design of the building that had come up at the last subcommittee meeting, including the color of the brick for the facade, the metal tones, the office entrance, lighting, the penthouse, and the location for the BlueBikes station.

For the brick facade, he said that the “intent is to be within the family of reds and brick that is familiar to the street as well as the neighborhood,” and that the tones of bronze should be darker as well to match the surroundings. He said that the goal is to “create articulation with brick detailing” as well as “creating different shadow lines.”

Three of the proposed five stories of this building will be office space, with the bottom two dedicated to retail. Pandya talked about the office entrance on Dartmouth St., saying that the proposed canopy could be pulled back, and “warm, welcoming wood tones” could be introduced on the sides of the entrance, which had not been previously proposed.

Pandya then spoke about the cornice, which has been “simplified…to be almost like a coping detail” and is more flat than previously proposed. He also showed both light and dark options for the mechanical penthouse, with many of the commissioners saying they preferred the dark option, as they felt it better blended in with the architecture of the building.

The Commissioners and the team then spoke for a while about the placement of the BlueBikes station, as there are several potential options, both on the sidewalk and on the street near the building.

Chris Johns, a member of the team, said that they are still working out where the best location for the BlueBikes station would be. There is an existing station further down on Dartmouth St., but he said that “the idea of putting them on Newbury St. might make some sense,” or even potentially splitting the bikes up and having them in several different locations on the street.

Tom High from backbayhouses.org said that “putting [the bikes] on the sidewalk next to another building I think creates some visual problems as well as potentially some safety problems.” He said that moving them to Dartmouth St. could work, so long as they are “not in front of the building.”

Commissioner Jerome CooperKing said that he likes the bikes better “at the curb in the utility strip instead of bringing it right up next to the storefront,” and Commissioner Robert Weintraub said that while he believes the sidewalk is wide enough to accommodate the bikes, he thinks they’re best located on the street.

Weintraub said that the “wood at the office entry wing walls is a great idea,” and it will help to “soften some of the harshness at the entry.” He said he prefers the darker penthouse option as well.

BBAC Chair Kathy Connor also said she prefers the darker option, as it is “easier on the eye,” as did Commissioners John Christiansen and Jerome CooperKing.

Other commissioners, like David Sampson, said that he likes the proposed new trees for the sidewalk area for the building as well as the “fat cornice at the very top,” which he said “separates the building itself from the penthouse.”

Commissioner Christiansen brought up an “issue with the amount of glass and how it’s broken up,” and made a few suggestions for how to address that, and there was also some discussion about the sign bands, though the design team is aware that they will have to come before the Commission with a signage plan as a separate application.

“This has been a fabulous process,” said Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). She thought that the BlueBikes would work better on Dartmouth St. than on Newbury, as she is “concerned about heavy foot traffic” on Newbury St. She also said she hopes the NABB Architecture Committee can work with the developer on a plan for the timing for the proposed building lights, “so it isn’t bright all night,” she said. Prindle also said she still had remaining concerns about the size of the mechanical equipment.

After a few more details were discussed between the commissioners, the public, and the design team, the Commission ultimately voted to recommend approval of this project to the full Commission, where it will be heard at next week’s BBAC hearing on May 12.

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