Beacon Street Lodging-House Applicant Returns to NABBLBU Committee With New Proposal

After meeting with a less than favorable response at the June 8 meeting, an applicant was on hand again at the virtual Aug. 1 meeting of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay License and Building Use Committee (NABBLBU) with a revised proposal to increase the occupancy of an existing lodging house at 291 Beacon St.

The proposed future home of Aceituna Grill at 267-269 Newbury St.

In a letter to the committee, George Haroutiounian, managing director of SEE Real Estate, LLC, and Marc McClure, managing partner of GenX Capital Partners, LLC, outlined their proposal to increase the occupancy of the lodging house from the current number of 11 to 22 – down from their previous proposed occupancy of 31 guests. Additionally, the applicant agreed to provisos that no room would be rented to an individual under 25 years of age unless accompanied by a parent or guardian; that no room would be rented to a student, and the “building will not be used as [a] dormitory or frat house”; and that a minimum stay of no less than two nights for weekends and holidays, and no less than three nights during the week, is required, among other stipulations outlined in the letter.

“The terms and conditions of any agreement we reach will be binding on both the Lodging House License and the Property so as current ownership and all successive ownerships will have to comply with the same terms and conditions set forth in this agreement,” the applicants’ letter further asserts.

Haroutiounian, who was in attendance at the Aug. 1 meeting, said Gen X Capital Partner, which operates other lodging houses in New England (although not in Boston), has expressed interest in purchasing the building, if the requested change in occupancy is granted by the city. (The applicant postponed its scheduled Aug. 23 hearing with the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal after their plan met with strong opposition from neighbors and a vote to opposite it by NABB in June.)

The building currently comprises 11 units ranging in size from around 225 square feet to the approximately 1,200 square-foot top unit, said Haroutiounian. Each unit has a kitchen, as well as a bathroom, except for the two smallest units on the third floor, which share a bathroom, he said, so the plan is to add another bathroom on the third floor. (The proposed construction project isn’t part of the request for a change in occupancy, however.)

Asked how he could ensure that tenants abide by the building rules, Haroutiounian said cameras would be installed in the common areas, and that there will be a phone number where neighbor can call to voice their concerns with the building’s operation.

Haroutiounian also said trash would be stored inside the building, except for on trash-removal days when building management would bring it to the sidewalk for collection, he said.

Ron Lecours, who has lived at 279 Beacon St. for the past decade, said the applicant’s proposal is merely a “distraction” designed to increase the building occupancy, and that neighbors would be better off if the occupancy stayed at 11 without the addition of any restrictions on tenants.

“The rules are mostly unenforceable – let’s face it,” said Lecours. “We’re stuck with 11 [units].The real risk to quality of life in the Back Bay is to have a big operation there. We want to keep this a residential neighborhood for owners and renters.”

Additionally, Lecours expressed concern that this would set a precedent for future developers who could also increase the occupancy of buildings in the neighborhood before flipping them to subsequent buyers at a higher price.

If the city doesn’t allow the requested change in occupancy, Haroutiounian said the applicant could choose to operate it as an apartment building, which wouldn’t be a “viable business,” or to convert it to condos or a single-family dwelling. Otherwise, the applicant could keep the building aa a lodging house with an 11-person occupancy and raise the rents, he said.

In another matter, the commission heard an application for Aceituna Grill, a new restaurant that plans to open at 267-269 Newbury St., and is seeking to transfer a beer-and-wine license from a now-shuttered South End restaurant, as well as to upgrade the license to also include cordials.

Aceituna Grill is described as a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant, which has two other locations in Boston and one in Cambridge, according to A.J. Kurban, one of the owners and the manager of record for the proposed Newbury Street establishment.

The  proposed Newbury Street restaurant, which has proposed hours of operation of 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week,  would have a total seating capacity of 49, including 15 patrons on the outside patio located in the alley, said Kurban.

The patio is now under construction and its design would incorporate railings and planters “to make everything look pretty,” said Kurban, although Elliott Laffer, chair of NABB’s board of directors, advised him that the Back Bay Architectural Commission “would have to rule on anything in an alley.”

The proposed restaurant, which isn’t seeking an entertainment license, would store its trash in a dumpster located in the alley, said Kurban, while the kitchen vent would vent directly to the roof.

Itadaki, the Japanese restaurant that occupied the upper level of 267-269 Newbury St., which will become home to Aceituna Grill, meanwhile, will relocate to the lower level at the same address.

“Itadaki is moving all of its operations to the lower level and doing renovation there, and we’ll occupy the top level,” said Kurban, who added that Aceituna Grill intend to open there by “the beginning of October, hopefully.”

Conrad Armstrong, committee, chair told Kurban he would inform him of NABB’s determination on his application by the end of next week.

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