The Back Bay Architectural District Commission (BBAC) on September 8 approved the landscape and site plan for a proposed retail and office building at 149-155 Newbury St.
Whitney Robinette of L3 Capital LLC and Chris Jones of engineering firm IBI Group presented the proposal and addressed comments and questions from Commissioners and the public.
Jones explained that some changes had been made to the proposal since the last time it came before the Commission, as the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) had asked for some revisions to the design, he said.
He said the city expressed some concern with the “ground plane,” and said that the parking that was originally planned for within the plaza has been moved to the curb. Additionally, he said that they “wanted us to make sure we had a robust urban canopy,” so planters have been proposed that will include things like annuals and seasonal bulbs.
The BlueBikes docking station has also been moved to the sidewalk instead of the street so it can be a year-round station, and the curb ramps will also be adjusted on the corner of Dartmoulth and Newbury Streets. The length of the green space will also be brought up to the base of the building, Jones said.
Wrought iron railings and granite curbs will be used in the site design, as will benches that are shaped like pebbles, which sparked a discussion amongst the Commissioners and the team. The pebble seating would be located around the site under trees.
Commissioner John Christiansen had some issues with the proposed pebble seating, saying that he wants to see seating options with backs and armrests, which the pebbles do not offer.
“I think the pebble seating’s a nice addition to Newbury St.,” said Commissioner Jerome CooperKing. “I like the whimsy. It’s nice.” Commissioner Genia Demetriades agreed.
“I really hadn’t intended to put traditional benches in this space,” Jones said, but Christiansen said he felt they were necessary.
The team explained that this issue had been brought up by the city before, and there were concerns raised about people spending too long on benches. They said that the goal was to not “make it attractive for people to hang out there for the whole day.”
Commissioner Jim Berkman said that “if someone needs a bench for the back, they can go to the Comm. Ave. Mall. I don’t think we need to complicate the design by adding benches.”
During public comment, Meg Mainzer Cohen, President of the Back Bay Association, said that while she supports the project, “I strongly oppose the idea of adding more benches to Dartmouth St.”
She explained that benches had to be removed from Copley Square because “too many homeless people were using the benches. We right now have a huge problem with homeless people on Newbury St., especially in from of vacant buildings.”
Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said she agrees with Mainzer-Cohen, and would prefer to not have benches with backs and armrests. She said that she has “heard concerns from the Vendome” regarding issues with benches that have since been removed.
Additionally, Prindle said that the “size of the tree pits on Newbury St…seemed a little small to me,” and she was concerned about the trees getting the proper amount of water.
Margaret Pokorny of the Garden Club of the Back Bay also said she does not want traditional benches in the area either, as there are no benches on the Dartmouth St. mall currently. She said “it would be a real change of appearance to have them in this particular block.”
Pokorny also said that the Garden Club would support moving the “tree on the corner” to a different location and planting “the appropriate species” in its place, which she said would be a Honey Locust tree.
Commissioner John Christiansen made a motion to approve the proposal with the provisos that the trees are surrounded by curbs and planting, using the Vendome tree pits as a model, and that if possible, the seating pebbled should be flattened out on the top, and to work with the Garden Club on the removal of the corner tree to replace it with a Honey Locust tree. The tree portion is just a recommendation, as it is the Parks Department’s tree, not the building’s.
The motion was approved by the full Commission.