A proposal to change the occupancy of an existing lodging house at 291 Beacon St. from 11 to 31 met with strong opposition during the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) License and Building Use Committee Meeting, which took place virtually on Monday, June 6.
“This doesn’t sound like a traditional ongoing boarding house – it sounds like an Airbnb hotel,” said Elliott Laffer, chair of NABB’s board of directors. “This is a very troubling application. I can’t say how this committee or the Executive Committee will vote… but it’s a very, very, very, very disturbing application.”
The trouble with this application comes down to the location on a residential block of Beacon Street, said Laffer which is in sharp contrast to a boarding house that NABB had previously supported at 245 Newbury St.
“It would be fine on Boylston Street, but it’s not fine on Beacon Street,” said Laffer. “There was a major effort on the city’s part to not have [short-term rentals] expand into the neighborhoods, particularly the downtown neighborhoods, and we’ve pushed back pretty hard on it.”
The applicant and building owner, George Haroutiounian, said the building has a lodging house license, and that he’s not asking for any changes to the building, but only for the occupancy increase for business reasons. (A plan to renovate the existing bathrooms and kitchens would be part of another future application, he said.)
Haroutiounian said the building’s previous owner also hadn’t used it exclusively as a boarding house, since some of its apartments had been on long-term leases.
Moreover, Haroutiounian, who said he is also a Beacon Street resident who lives just blocks away from the property, added that 31 lodging houses operate in the immediate area, with five of them on Beacon Street within blocks of this one.
Mark McClure, who represented the applicant, said rooms would rent for between $350 and $400 a night for a minimum of three to five (or perhaps even seven) nights and wouldn’t be “rotating through party animals.”
McClure also said while the requested change in occupancy is for 31 people, 16 to 18 tenants would be a more accurate projection for how many people would staying in the building at any given time.
Ron Lecours, who has lived at 279 Beacon St. for the past decade, expressed concern that the increased occupancy would result in “hundreds of new people coming through this neighborhood.”
Lecours added, “It’s the wrong kind of neighborhood for that type of business….and it’s just not compatible with how we live in this corner of town.”
To this end, Lecours expressed concern that the building would come to resemble some of the neglected lodging houses on Beacon Street past Massachusetts Avenue.
Lecours encouraged the applicant “to tear up their business plan and try it somewhere else,” or to instead covert the building into condos.
Damon Katz, a trustee of 283-285 Beacon St., expressed concern that the proposal “appears to me to be a drastic change in use,” which would likely result in increased trash and noise in the neighborhood.
Anthony Macchi, the project architect, said they would be holding an abutters meeting in two weeks and invited those at this week’s LBU Committee meeting to attend it.
Conrad Armstrong, chair of the LBU Committee, said he had heard both sides of the issue, and that he would let the applicant know how NABB’s Executive Committee had voted on their application by this Friday, June 10.
Sheraton as Permanent Northeastern Student Housing
The LBU committee also heard an application for The Sheraton Boston hotel at 39 Dalton St., where one of the two towers (the south tower) has been used by Northeastern University to house around 800 students in approximately 420 rooms on a temporary basis with approval of Boston Planning & Development Agency. (The north tower will remain a hotel.)
Attorney Dennis Quilty said Northeastern wants to now make a formal request to use the south tower as dormitory, which would trigger a full city process, including the Article 80 process.
“This is an early visit back to say we’re formally making this request,” said Quilty, who added that the applicant plans to return to NABB once they have filed a Letter of Intent with the city.
Quilty said the applicant intends to create a separate entrance to the south tower for students on Belvidere Street, where an empty retail space is now located.
Also, Quilty said Northeastern intends to lease the building for five to 10 years or “maybe longer.”
Quilty added that he expects this process would take months to complete, but that the goal is to have it finished in time for the next academic year.
Lululemon’s To-Go Café and Request for Entertainment License
In another matter, the LBU committee reviewed an application for Lululemon, an athletic-apparel retail store at 208 Newbury St., which wants to legalize an existing second-floor café.
Attorney Dennis Quilty said the applicant is seeking a Common Victualler (CV) license from the city for the café, which was previously occupied by Nourish Your Soul juice bar, and would server water, tea, and juices, as well as limited prepared foods, such as energy bars. (No cooking takes place on the premises, he said.)
“We wants to file for the CV almost immediately, since it already exists,” said Quilty.
Additionally, Lululemon will be seeking an entertainment license from the city for the second-floor yoga workout area and small common area, which would allow for activities such as a guitar player, the reading of a poem, or recorded music in the background “as an amenity for people exercising and taking yoga classes, things of that nature,” said Quilty.
Amanda Webster, regional manager for Lululemon, added that having an entertainment license would also allow the business “to showcase what the community is up to” through events such as a poetry reading or a gallery launch.
Laffer expressed concern that the applicant’s request for an entrainment license mentioned a broad range of activities, including comedy shows, panel discussions, and dance performances.
“The zoning goes with building, and if it’s drawn too broadly, it’s something we can’t control,” said Laffer.
Quilty said some of these activities wouldn’t appear in the final application, and that he would return to the committee to discuss the details once they’ve been finalized.
“We’re just asking for an opportunity to come back and discuss this detail…because it’s a much larger process,” said Quilty.
Legal Sea Foods Requests Transfer of Liquor License
The LBU committee also heard an application from Legal Sea Foods to transfer the liquor license from its recently shuttered location at 26 Park Plaza to its new restaurant at 79 Park Plaza in the space previously occupied by The Oyster Club.
Charley Wright, director of operations for Legal Sea Foods, said they wouldn’t be changing the restaurant’s layout or design, only upgrading the light fixtures “to give it a more legal look.”
The proposed closing hours for the new restaurant would be 9 p.m. for the restaurant and 10 p.m. at the bar Monday through Friday, said Wright, while the restaurant would close at 10 p.m. and the bar at 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It would open for lunch daily at either 11 or 11:30 a.m., he added.
The new restaurant’s occupancy would be around 300 people, added Wright, with 100 seats at tables and another 87 at the bar inside, as well an additional 70 seats at the outdoor patio.
Armstrong said he would notify the applicant how NABB’s Executive Committee voted on their application by Friday.
The LBU committee also heard from Julia Dziuk, who has been offering cosmetic body art and reconstruction at 581 Boylston St. for about six years and now needs to add “body art tattooing (permanent cosmetics/makeup)” to the zoning for this address because she no longer has an on-site Medical Director.
Dziuk, who said she splits her time between the Back Bay location and another outpost in Danvers, said about 60 percent of her work is paramedical services to obscure body scarring for cancer patients and burn victims who are often referred to her by area hospitals, while cosmetic tattooing, such as eyebrows, eyeliner, and lip tattoos, accounts for the remainder of her business.
A licensed body art practitioner since 2005, Dziuk said she typically only works at her Back Bay location one day a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Armstrong told Dziuk he would notify her of how NABB’s Executive Committee voted on her application by Friday.