SELDC Seeks More Info on Structural Integrity of 595 Albany St. Before Granting Ability to Demolish

The South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) met virtually on October 5, where Commissioners heard a proposal for 595 Albany St. to demolish the existing two story brick building and replace it with a six story mixed use building that would feature commercial space and parking.

The building is located in the district’s protection area, which does not have the same rules and regulations as the landmark district itself. However, Commissioners were first charged with deciding whether or not this building is a “significant structure” in the protection area before they can weigh in on any potential new building to take its place.

After discussion, it was determined that while the Commission believes this building has significance, there was not enough information for them to determine whether or not there are alternatives to demolition, as a structural report was not provided and a site visit by Commissioners had not been made.

Andrew Brassard presented the proposal on behalf of the owners of the building, saying that an advisory review had been held at the August SELDC meeting, after which some changes to the proposal had been made and presented to the Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association.

The proposed six story building would include nine units of housing and a commercial space with parking and a “private and public access roof deck with access enclosures and utility condenser units,” Brassard said.

The existing two story brick building is currently the home of the Baha’i Center of Boston, which had been using the building “until a few years ago,” when structural issues forced them to vacate the premises.

According to a slide presented at the hearing, a “structural survey” was completed in January of 2018 that indicated “that all of the existing wood structural beams on the main level showed signs of decay and were found to be soft, rotting and deteriorated with partial loss of Cross-sectional area.”

Additionally, “significant perimeter foundation settlement” was found. In May of this year, the building’s owners received a violation from the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD), “which deemed the building “Unsafe and Dangerous,” and were asked to make repairs per a structural engineer or tear the building down.

The slide also reads “structural condition of building deems property hazardous and unsuitable for current use as a center for congregation and cost prohibitive for repurposing.”

After hearing a historic analysis of the existing building by Boston Landmarks Commission Preservation Planner Mary Cirbus, Commissioner John Amodeo said that “I would say it’s pretty compelling to know it would be one of the last few remaining buildings that face the South Bay Piers…when those still existed. Losing the building would lose that valuable history.”

Commissioner David Shepperd agreed, saying that he feels as though it’s worth trying to keep, citing “several design features of the building” including details on the side and the “dentil work at the top. There’s architectural significance here that would be lost,” he said.

Commissioner Catherine Hunt said, “I do agree that this is a significant structure.”

Amodeo said that since Commissioners seemed to agree the building has significance in the neighborhood, it was time to decide whether or not they believe there are other options for the building besides demolition.

“I think small buildings like this are very interesting buildings, and it’s sad to be losing them in the district,” said Commissioner John Freeman. “Many, many of them have had decades of neglect. It’s really clear to me…that the building is at the end of its life,” and suggested that it may not be practical to restore it.

The Commission also said they would like to see a structural report, as one had not been completed, and said that they need to do their “due diligence” and conduct a site visit as well, as that it something the Commission typically does prior to making a decision about the demolition of a building.

Brassard said that the owners of the building have concerns about people going inside of the building with all of its structural issues, though “the temporary shoring is deemed to be safe,” he said. He said that the Commission could most likely work something out with the owners so they could see the inside of the building, whether it be permission to enter or a video call with someone else inside.

Freeman said that it’s “most important” for the Commission to see “the exterior bearing walls.”

A resident who said he owns “the building between 587 and 595 [Albany St.]” said that the existing building and others in the area are “about to fall down” and “they’re really not safe.” He said he has concerns about it “falling in and crumbling on my building.”

Resident David Stone, who is also the president of the Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association but was speaking as a private resident, said that he “strongly supports the proposal” to build the six story building. He said “I love the history of my neighborhood,” but he said he didn’t agree with Commissioners that the building has any historical significance. “In our meeting, no one spoke in support of preserving the building,” he said.

“Demolition is a big deal, and we want to make sure we do our due diligence here, everyone,” Commissioner Hunt said. “I think we would be remiss if we did not do our due diligence.”

Amodeo added that the Commission is “not saying that this won’t lead to demolition,” but the proper process must be followed.

The Commission ultimately voted to continue this application with the provisos that a site visit be conducted and that the applicant reach out to a structural engineer to do a structural report on the building, which is to be provided to the Commission.

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