SEDLC Hears Advisory Review for Proposed Seven-Story Building on Washington St.

The South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) on August 3 heard an advisory review for a proposed seven-story building at 1395 Washington St., which is currently home to a one-story commercial structure.

Architect Dartagnan Brown presented the proposal, saying that the project team has recently filed a rejection letter to kick off the Article 80 process with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), and were looking for some initial feedback from the SEDLC on the proposal as it stands now.

“What we’re looking to propose is a seven-story residential building with 35 units,” Brown said, adding that there would be “very active ground floor retail.” The units would be condominiums with a mix of studio, one, two, and three bedroom units.

The proposed height for the building is 83 feet tall, but the limit for the area is 70 feet.

“We are truly excited to work on this,” Brown said. He also said that the team is “really focusing on attention to detail.”

The top floor of the building will be set back “significantly,” and “understanding the context of surrounding buildings is the main idea here,” he said.

The massing of the residential portion will be in between the second, third, fourth, and fifth floors, while the sixth floor will be “carrying the band that’s quite prevalent in the building to the right,” and the seventh and top floor will “really step back,” Brown said.

The residential lobby will be located to the right, and the retail space will be able to be subdivided to allow for “flexibility for tenancy in the building,” which is something that’s desired by the project team.

The materials for the facade are proposed to be a lighter stone colored brick, and there will be the “ability to open up at the living rooms with the Juliette deck.”

The existing building to the left is five stories, while the one on the right has a seventh floor “that we’re in alignment with,” Brown said. Mechanicals will be on top of the setback on the seventh floor, but no details were provided.

“That’s a little deceptive, guys, sorry,” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt. Brown said the units would be “individual little condensers like you see on the brownstones.”

Commissioner Freeman said, “I like the building and I think you’ve done some very thoughtful design and I like your presentation.”

He talked about how the Commission has decided over the years what makes a South End building a South End building, saying that “it’s not mimicking historic buildings,” calling that the “worst way to do a new construction building.”

He said that “half” of the South End’s “architectural vocabulary to make it comfortable in the South End.”

Right now, he said he doesn’t feel that this building meets that criteria. “Very often, South End buildings diminish in scale as they go up,” Freeman said. He continued, “buildings next to each other usually recognize the horizontal alignments of the buildings adjacent to them in some way.” He told the project team that they “need to bring in a little bit more of that in this design to make it comfortable in the South End.”

He suggested first looking at the horizontal alignments, and told the team that they need to include the mechanical equipment in the presentation, as well as a preliminary signage plan, though a master signage plan will be required later.

Commissioner Fabian D’Souza took a different approach. He said he believe it would be “helpful” for both the Commission and the project team to “lump” certain aspects of the proposal into different groups “so that that makes for greater fluency of discussion,” he said. “I think at this point in time, I am less inclined to actually talk about specifics.” He wants to make the issues more concise.

Commissioner David Shepperd said he had some concerns about the proposed height, but he did like that part of it was set back. However, he said that he doesn’t notice the setback from all angles of the renderings that were down.

He said he is not sure any building above 70 feet would be “approvable,” as “that’s the rule for the neighborhood and this lot.”

Additionally, Shepperd said “I think we will want to have some more details about various things John mentioned,” such as the lintels and sills, the windows, and the overhang for the bottom floor. Balconies were also a topic of discussion. The proposed balconies are a Juliette type.

“I’m not sold on the grayish color” for the brick, he said, as “everything adjacent and nearby is all red brick. That’s really the historic nature of the neighborhood.”

Commissioner Hunt said, “I probably agree with a lot of John Freeman’s comments,” but she also asked the project team why they were proposing a building that is taller than the approvable height. “Why does it always have to be something more, more more?” she wondered. This is an issue that has come up for several proposals not just in the South End, but in other neighborhoods in the city as well.

The project team said that the proposal as it stands “fits into what the market needs,” and this number of stories is what is needed to make it work financially.

Attorney Marc LaCasse said that “the notion that a variance for height or any of the other dimensional requirements is unusual is simply not the case in Boston,” LaCasse said. He said that at the Zoning Board of Appeal, “you’ll hear no fewer than 200 variances being granted every other Tuesday.” He added that in Boston, the “zoning code is intentionally restrictive and intentionally archaic…so the city can control the process.”

Overall, Hunt said the team has “done a great job,” calling it “a fine start.” She said she personally did like the light color for the facade. She said that there are “a lot of nice moves here. I’m sure it will progress in a fine way.”

The project team said that they will take the Commission’s comments into consideration, and expect to come back multiple times throughout the city process to continue to get feedback  and hone the proposal before coming back with an official application for a vote.

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