Front Facade Improvements at 82 Mount Vernon St Approved; Addition at 40 Beacon St Denied

July 28, 2018
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In a continuation from last month, architect Steven Young represented 82 Mount Vernon St. at the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission on July 19. To a room packed with people, he proposed to repair and repaint the existing front shutters, repaint the second floor oriel, repaint the front door, trim, and wrought iron handrails, and replace 12 double hung windows one the front facade that are “beyond repair,” and paint them their existing color.

The hearing of this particular application drew in a crowd, most of whom were opposed to the project for various reasons, including zoning issues and the idea of constructing back decks, which has not yet been proposed to the Commission. Commissioner Miguel Rosales excused himself from the hearing of this application.

Preservation Planner Eric Hill said that as far as the zoning issue goes, he said that the staff spoke with the City of Boston Law Department and it was determined that this was not a zoning issue since the existing base building on the property allows for all proposed rear decks, however, once the decks are proposed to the Commission, they will require mock-ups to be reviewed.

So far, the applicant has submitted two applications to the Commission, the one that was heard at this hearing regarding the front facade, and the other for window openings on the rear facade, which staff has determined is not visible from a public way so it does not fall under the purview of the Commission. That application is currently under appeal, according to Hill.

Despite all of these side pieces involved with the project, chair Kenneth Taylor reminded everyone that the application under review that evening was for the front facade only, and any comments or questions would have to be directly related to that application.

Several community members spoke in opposition to this project, saying that they would like the application to be heard as one project, and not piecemeal. Some (including attorney James Greene representing John Corey at 84 Mount Vernon St.)  also requested that it be heard after the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on September 11. Taylor said that the commission has received 16 letters of opposition against this application.

But Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, said that it is “quite typical” to get multiple applications for a single project. Since projects change over time and things are added, he said it is not out of the ordinary for there to be more than one application for one project.

John Corey from Mount Vernon St. said there were a full set of plans and drawings that had been submitted to the ISD for the project.

“I pointed out many missing items that were filed on the ISD plans or were omitted from the applicant’s architectural commission application,” Corey said. He also said he had attended the hearing in June. “At that hearing, the commission was supportive of having the applicant come back with a complete application and a full set of plans front and back,” he said.

Frank McGuire from the Beacon Hill Civic Association expressed his disapproval for the project and  said that “this is visually one of the most extreme violations of the fabric and character of Beacon Hill that in my 35 years here I have ever seen.”

Since the ISD has a record of the entire project, Taylor repeatedly asked Young why the entire thing wasn’t submitted to the Commission for review. Young replied that he was there to speak about the application for the front facade, and that there was no front facade work for the ISD. He said that he wanted the front facade completed before a mockup was done for the back facade. He added that ISD has approved the building permit, and that no work on the building permit is visible from a public way.

Commissioner Paul Donnelly responded by saying that they do not know yet whether any aspects of the project are visible from a public way.

Hill said that no deck application has been submitted through the Commission, and that “ISD will never issue a permit on anything that they deem as Landmarks jurisdiction unless a Landmarks body, i.e. us, approved it.”

“It’s pretty clear there’s unresolved issues on the rear,” said commissioner P.T. Vineburgh. “Our job is to look at what’s been applied for; there’s been many developers and homeowners like you coming in multiple times for different elements of a project; that’s not, to Mr. Cornish’s point, that is not some anomaly here.”

Vineburgh continued, “They can work all this other stuff out, zoning, lawsuits, and any other issues they have as it relates to the rear specifically, the fenestrations the decks. These are all things that clearly are more complex than what’s in front of us today and I think that’s profanely the rationale behind separating them…”

Focusing directly on the application in front of them, Taylor said that he doesn’t think half screens are very attractive and the obscure the fenestration. He asked the applicant to consider alternatives to exterior mounted half screens.

The Commission ended up voting to approve this particular application as submitted except for the half screens.

Quite a few people stayed for the hearing of 40 Beacon Street, which was a continuation from a hearing on June 15 of last year.

Applicant Guy Grassi from Grassi Design Group, presented a revised proposal for the construction of a fourth floor addition at the existing three-story ell that connects a previously approved addition to the existing four-story carriage house, as well as the installation of shutters on the front elevation.

According to Grassi, the new proposed addition has a smaller volume, a lower height, is set father back from the roof line, and will have a change in material.

He said that the townhouse building was originally three stories with a basement, and the fourth story was added “somehow along the line.” Before the 1920s, he said that there was a one or two story connector that was built in between the carriage house and the townhouse, and the carriage house was expanded vertically over time.

“So there’s a history of this building having been added to and added to and added to and added to from the original townhouse and one story carriage house behind it,” Grassi said.

They’ve pushed the proposed addition back five feet from the edge and made it as narrow as code will allow, Grassi said, “which will allow us basically a three foot passageway between the two spaces and comply with the zoning setback on the rear.”

 

It has shrunk in size from 100 square feet to 50 square feet, and Grassi said that the mockup is “basically” in alignment with the Somerset Club.

Katherine Kimball, an abutter on Walnut Street, wanted to know why “given the fact that visible from a public way is used as a guidepoint, this has been allowed.” She said that if this project were allowed, it would be the third time something that was visible was approved, citing two other instances of visibility. She said that Grassi said the fourth floor of the townhouse was approved even though it could be seen from the Common, and that part of the penthouse is visible from Walnut Street.

“…and now we have this third one, and it’s not only visible, it’s extremely visible from Walnut Street,” she said.

Commissioner Miguel Rosales said that the applicant was “adding something that’s not supposed to be added.” He said that it’s “obvious” that the building was supposed to sit alone with the carriage house behind it, not connected to the building.

“When he does that, to me he’s obliterating this building and he’s making a connection that was never supposed to exist,” Rosales said.

Grassi presented pictures of a mockup of the addition, which appeared to be a natural light wood color in the photos, but Rosales said that he had gone to see the mockup, and it was red.

Grassi said that he believes the mockup is made of 2×4 pieces of wood, and that it has been there for a couple of months. He thinks it had been spray painted red after the photos were taken.

Rosales was very concerned about the discrepancy in the mockup and said that the application cannot be approved because of it.

Taylor said that his concern the last time this proposal was presented was that it would have added a new profile to the skyline. He requested that the applicant lower the addition even more to the minimum height it can be.

Martha McNamara, Director of the New England Arts and Architecture Program at Wellesley College, expressed her concern for this proposal, saying that there should be a visual gap between the townhouse and the carriage house, and that Grassi’s proposal was driven by a real estate consideration. “I implore you to retain its integrity,” she said.

A letter from the Beacon Hill Civic Association stated that this project would be “taking advantage of Beacon Hill.”

Rosales reiterated that this is a “completely alien addition that should not be approved,” and the application was denied as proposed.

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