A public hearing was held before the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (“BHAC”) on Thursday, Dec. 19, on the Boston Department of Public Works’ (“DPW”) proposal to use poured cement and plastic tactile warning panels in hundreds of wheelchair-accessible sidewalk curb cuts that the DPW is planning to construct over the coming years throughout Beacon Hill. As part of its proposal, the DPW intended to remove thousands of square feet of bricks from the sidewalks in historic district. The DPW’s proposal also contemplated the removal of hundreds of trees from Beacon Hill streets.
The DPW’s proposal was opposed by many Beacon Hill residents, over 30 of whom attended the public hearing, with some of the residents speaking in opposition to the DPW’s proposal. In addition, the Beacon Hill Civic Association (“BHCA”) board of directors had voted on Dec. 9, to oppose the DPW’s proposal to remove thousands of square feet of sidewalk bricks from throughout the Beacon Hill, to be replaced with poured cement sidewalk ramps and plastic tactile panels. The BHCA Board also voted to oppose the city’s plans to unnecessarily remove hundreds of trees from Beacon Hill sidewalks.
ACCESS/Beacon Hill, an organization dedicated to making the Beacon Hill Historic District more accessible for all using historically appropriate materials and construction techniques, also opposed the DPW’s proposal to remove thousands of bricks from Beacon Hill sidewalks and to construct wheelchair-accessible curb cut ramps using poured cement concrete and plastic tactile warning-panels. ACCESS/Beacon Hill argued to the members of the BHAC at the public hearing that the poured cement and plastic tactile panels that the DPW planned to use in the construction of the curb cuts, were not historically inappropriate materials to use in the Beacon Hill National Landmark District, and did not comply with the Beacon Hill Historic District Guidelines. ACCESS/Beacon Hill also argued that that there were many other types of materials that could be used in the construction of the curb cuts, such as wire-cut bricks, granite pavers and architectural cast concrete pavers that are entirely compliant with the Americans with Disability Act for use in curb cut construction, and which would be more appropriate for use in the Beacon Hill Historic District.
After a hearing lasting over three hours, the five members of the BHAC, by a vote of 3–2, rejected the DPW’s proposal to use poured cement concrete in sidewalk curb cuts and rejected the DPW’s proposal to use plastic composite tactile panels in the Beacon Hill Historic District. The BHAC Chair, Joel Pierce, one of the three votes that rejected the DPW’s proposal, noted his concern that the removal of thousands of square feet of brick from Beacon Hill sidewalks, and their replacement with poured cement curb cuts, would violate the Beacon Hill Historic District enabling act and the BHAC Guidelines.
Pierce noted that the statute and guidelines required that “historically significant materials” in the historic district be “maintained and repaired rather than replaced,” and that where the replacement of existing materials was necessary, the new materials “shall match the materials being replaces in composition, design, color, texture and other visible qualities.”
He further stated that the PWD had not demonstrated that the proposed use of poured cement in the curb cuts was in compliance with the Beacon Hill Historic District enabling act and the BHAC Guidelines, and that the PWD had not demonstrated that the use of poured cement in the curb cuts was superior in durability to other more-historically appropriate materials.
The members of the BHAC did approve the PWD’s more limited additional proposal to remove over 800 square feet of old sidewalk bricks on both sides of Joy Street halfway up the block from Cambridge Street to Smith Court, and replace the old bricks with new, wire-cut brick that have been found to provide a smoother surface for persons in wheelchairs.
The BHAC also voted to allow the DPW to come back to the BHAC in the future with another plan for constructing sidewalk curb cuts on Beacon Hill. Any such new plan would have to utilize materials other than the poured cement and plastic tactile panels that were rejected by the BHAC, and would have to be complaint with the Beacon Hill Historic District guidelines.