BBAC Discusses Signage Proposals; Approves Electric Vehicle Charging-Station

The Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) held a virtual hearing on January 12, where Commissioners discussed several proposals related to signage, as well as approved a design for an electric vehicle charging-station that had first presented at last month’s hearing.

220 Newbury St.

The Sill, a retailer of potted plants, occupies the second floor space at 220 Newbury St., and requested to install a double sided sign on the railing in front of the building.

“They’ve been struggling with foot traffic,” said Paulette Mancuso, who represented The Sill at the hearing. While a blade sign is also in the works for the building, “most people aren’t looking up to the second floor,” she said.

The proposed sign is a green rectangular sign that says “plants” with two arrows pointing right towards the building. The bottom of the sign says “The Sill.”

Mancuso said that “we are open to suggestions from the Commission as to how to bring more foot traffic into the upper floor.”

Commissioner Robert Weintraub said that with the existing signs in the windows and the blade sign, “this would be a third sign.” He asked Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, whether or not the railing sign could be considered temporary if it was brought out when the store opens each day and back inside when it closes.

Cornish said that such a sign “would have to be related to a sale or a special event for it to be considered temporary. This is certainly meant to be a permanent sign.”

Mancuso said that the existing signs in the window could be removed in favor of this railing sign.

“I think it would be more important to have that railing sign, because when you’re walking down the street on the sidewalk, you see that, and you see that we sell plants,” she said.

When asked if she would consider a smaller railing sign, she said, “yes, definitely.”

Other members of the commission asked if a different color may also be used for the sign.

“This is one of their brand colors,” Mancuso said of the green, but added that “we can definitely do a black background with white lettering, which might also meld more into the black railing.” She also said it could be made smaller, which was another request from the Commission.

“I think the tradeoff would be to either remove the window signage or the blade sign and have this as a revised plan instead,” Cornish said.

Mancuso said that “we’re working on that blade sign,” but it hasn’t been installed yet because repairs need to be made on the building facade. She said that the “coloration” of that sign should match that of the rail sign, and said that the current window signage could be removed.

The Commission voted to approve the sign with the provisos that it be reduced in size based on staff recommendations, to use a darker background color and have it match the blade sign, and to remove the logos from the window. All details were also remanded to staff.

286 Newbury St.

At 286 Newbury St., two wall signs and a blade sign were proposed for Burrow House, a furniture store. The proposal also includes the removal of awning hardware.

A representative for Burrow said that “we wanted to propose two backlit illuminated signs to kind of be visible on the street from each side. The blade sign has a yellow background, and the two wall signs will be located on either side of the door above the windows.

A suggestion was made to think about one sign for the building plus the blade sign, because the Commission generally felt that the three signs were too much.

The representative said that the idea is to imitate The Capital Burger, which also has the twin signs.

He said that the team believed the “symmetry would be a little off if we did not have it on both sides.:”

Joe Cornish said that “where there’s an existing bracket then we allow them,” referring to having multiple signs. “I can’t find any evidence that this has ever had one; that’s why I brought this this to you as a Commission.”

He said that the “wall signs are totally appropriate,” as they “complement the lower signs very nicely. Adding an addition blade sign seems excessive,” Cornish said, but told the Commission the decision was ultimately up to them.

The representative said that Allbirds on Newbury St. also has “two signs on each of their windows,” plus a third sign on a bracket.

“Has the applicant considered using the awnings or replacing the awnings?” Cornish asked. “That might be a better option since they are existing,” he said. “There’s history of having them there.”

The representative said that the team was “excited to remove the awnings,” as they felt doing so “made the facade and the building a little nicer.”

After some further discussion, the Commission voted to approve both backlit signs with the scale of lettering “to match that of” Pavement Coffeehouse, but the blade sign was not approved.

273 Beacon St.

273 Beacon St. owner Joshua Marantz returned before the Commission with an updated proposal for an electric vehicle charging station that he had proposed at last month’s hearing. The proposal was continued at that hearing, and Marantz was asked to return with more information about different ways to run the conduit.

Updates have been made to the proposal since the December hearing, including changing the PVC enclosure for the charging station to a wooden enclosure, as well as changing the PVC conduit originally proposed to a metal one. As suggested by the Commission, the cabinet is now proposed to be recessed into the brick wall where Marantz’s parking spot is located. Option number one includes running the conduit 12 inches from the ground.

He also said that two other options are on the table, one to run the conduit underneath the concrete wall cap, and one to run the conduit through the inside of the wall, though it is not certain that this is possible.

The conduit will be painted to match the brick as best as possible, Marantz said.

“Neither my contractor no electrician think it would be possible to do this,” he said of running the conduit through the wall. “They believe that this brick wall is basically a facade around concrete and that routing through it will be impossible. We won’t know for sure until we open it up, and we will open it up to put the cabinet in.”

Marantz said that his electrician as well as the other unit owners prefer the first option.

Commissioner Zsuzsanna Gaspar also brought up the location of the enclosure, which was proposed to be located to the left of the sign denoting Marantz’s parking space. She said it might ultimately be better to locate the cabinet to the right of the sign, in between the sign and the reflector denoting the neighbor’s parking space.

Commissioner John Christiansen said he agreed with this placement.

Marantz said that he would be open to moving the location, but he said the charger might be a little easier to use if it were on the left, as the plug for the car is on the driver’s side.

Commissioner Robert Weintraub suggested that a subcommittee be formed to discuss base guidelines for electric vehicle chargers, because it is anticipated that many more proposals are forthcoming in the district.

“We’re going to get flooded with these applications,” he said.

Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) suggested that the back of the cabinet be made of PVC to prevent it from rotting. She said the front should still be wood, She also said that the NABB Architecture Committee has discussed some guidelines for electric chargers that she’d be happy to share with the Commission.

The Commission voted to approve the proposal with a wooden cabinet and for staff to look into using PVC for the back. The Commission would prefer if the conduit could be run through the wall, but if that is not possible, they accept “the lower option with a metal conduit that can be painted darker than this sample to be as matched to the brick as possible,” John Christiansen said. The Commission also said the cabinet should be moved to the right of the parking spot sign.

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