While neighbors spoke highly of the historical renovation proposed for the 1830’s six-story brick townhouse at 63 Mt. Vernon Street, much of the discussion at Wednesday’s BHCA zoning and licensing committee focused on a 300-square-foot small building located at the rear of the property which extends from Mt. Vernon to Pinckney Street.
The small building, located at 28 Pinckney Street, was built in 1917 as a carriage house for 63 Mt. Vernon Street. It was converted to a garage in 1925 and then to an apartment in the late 1940s, perhaps because of the push for new housing after the war. Now, Jeffrey and Marisa Cohen, who purchased the entire property in 2014 to use in part as their primary residence, want to return the apartment to its original use as a garage where they’ll park two small cars tandem-style.
Doing so would involve restoring the original but long unused curb cut in the sidewalk. Because parking is not allowed on that side of the street, the curb cut would not take away residential parking spaces. However, committee Chair Tom Clemens said a vehicle’s turning radius might necessitate a loss of spaces on the other side of the street.
The installation of curb cuts and conversions of properties from residential to commercial have traditionally been frowned upon by the BHCA. In this situation, though, neighbors were split in their views. Some spoke in favor of the curb cut because it was historically present and because it would take two cars off the street’s residential parking spaces.
Several Pinckney Street residents opposed the building’s conversion, wanting residents not cars as neighbors. “Pinckney Street is a unique neighborhood with residences not commercial buildings,” said Alecia Manning.
“For 65 years, it has been a residence, much longer than it had been a garage,” said another neighbor Elizabeth McCann. “I’d much rather look out at neighbors than a garage with all its cars, noise and pollution.”
Some suggested the space – most often described as dark, dull, drab and too small – be improved with skylights and rear windows. Committee member Jeannette Herrmann doesn’t think the space is too small for residential use. “We are trying to maintain diversity in housing,” she said. “I’m not convinced such a small space is undesirable and instead think it compatible with Beacon Hill’s strategic plan.”
Because it is early in the project, the applicants have yet to receive notification of potential zoning code violations from the Inspectional Services Department, said Clemens. “It is unlikely (but possible) that ISD will identify a violation relating to the garage proposal. If there is none, the restoration of the curb cut would still require approval by the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission and by the Commissioner of Public Works, and possibly the Public Improvements Commission too.”
Likewise, ISD has yet to determine if variances are needed for the significant interior and exterior work proposed for the main property on the Mt. Vernon Street side. The building’s front façade would be renovated exactly as it appeared in old photographs, according to Monika Pauli of Pauli & Uribe Architects.
“We truly hope to restore the building back to its original beauty and make the Hill a more beautiful place by doing so,” said the owners’ daughter, Ariel Cohen, who is managing the property and has lived in the building for two years.
The exterior masonry would be repaired, fire escapes and metal stairs removed, and a Juliet balcony restored. The Cohens would live on the top floor and have access to a private rooftop deck. The building’s occupancy would be reduced from 17 to 14 rental units. The only possible zoning issue could be the 75-square-foot head house expansion for floor area ratio or excessive building height, Clemens said.
Since there were no identifiable zoning issues at this time, Clemens took a “sense of the room/committee vote” asking those present if they would approve the restoration of the townhouse and garage with curb cut, subject to a good neighbor agreement and the proviso that no existing on-street parking spaces could be eliminated.
The vote tally showed those present to be near deadlock for now. But, if ISD determines violations do exist, the applicants will be back soon for another round with the zoning and licensing committee.