BBAC Approves Mechanical Equipment for 149 Newbury St.

A subcommittee of the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) met virtually on October 28 to discuss the final design of the mechanical equipment for the proposed five story retail and office building to be built on the existing parking lot at 149 Newbury St.

A member of the project team said that they have made a number of changes to the mechanical portion of the building, including reducing the height and stepping back “as much as possible” from nearby buildings to lessen the impacts of shadows from the equipment. The new equipment being installed will allow the building to be fully electric.

He also said that the “mechanical mass” has been set back “close to 40 feet off the neighboring building.”

The taller equipment will be located  “closer towards the Newbury side” and the shorter equipment will be located closer to the center “to minimize the amount of screen and shadow on the alley and on the neighboring building,” he said. Because of this, there will be two different screen heights: 11 feet moving down to nine feet.

The applicant then talked about the staircase, saying that the roof for the stairs has been sloped “as much as physically possible for head height clearance,” which will also decrease the impact of shadows on the alley side “which we thought was helpful,” he said.

Commissioner John Christiansen said he had concerns about the color of the equipment for those who would be looking down on it from neighboring buildings.

The team said that there was one specific mechanical unit that would possibly be visible, but they said they are able to choose a paint color for that to help it blend in better. They said that the remaining units as well as the duct work will be low. Any exposed steel will be painted to mach the screen color.

John Tankard, a member of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay Architectural Review Committee, said that “on the Newbury St. elevation, the screening jumps from nine to 11 feet. I assume that’s because the air handling unit is 11 feet tall.” He said that from lower angles, all of the equipment would be shielded from view with a nine foot screen, and wondered if all of the screening could be at nine feet.

“It seems like it would be more cohesive to have one screen height,” he said, and Commissioner John Christiansen agreed.

The team said that while that is a possibility, there is a slight concern that :way down on Newbury,” the taller unit might be visible.”

Jackie Yessian, a resident of the Vendome, said that there is a “big area that has nothing on it” on the roof, and wondered if further changes could be made so the equipment could be further back from view.

The team said that because of the fully electric nature of the new building, they also have to take into consideration future tenants of the building and have to allow for :flexibility for down the road.” Though there are no plans to make this building residential, there could be tenants added or taken away in the future.

Yessian said, “if you get fully rented and you know you’re not going to need more units, can you pull it back?”

The team said that that would require an amendment to the building permit, which would not be worth doing if that were the case. They also said that a path is needed for maintenance of these units as well so space is needed in between them.

Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay suggested the use of a gray roof instead of the proposed black roof, as she said she has “had good luck” with using gray roofs to reduce heat gain. Prindle also asked the team if these units will comply with local noise ordinances.

The team responded to the roof comment by saying they’re aiming for LEED certification, so they are working with a consultant on which roof is most appropriate. They said that while the plan is to stick with a black roof, they could explore a gray one.

They also said that all equipment complies with noise ordinance requirements.

The Commission voted to approve the mechanical equipment proposal with the proviso that staff approve the final height of the screen, “whether it be nine or 11” feet, “not to exceed 11.”

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