Proposal for Acorn Street Security Gate Under Advisement

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission took the proposed installation of a security gate on Acorn Street under advisement at its monthly meeting last week, which took place virtually on Nov. 19, although the commissioners agreed that the applicant would first need to bring their plan to the city’s Public Improvement Commission before they can make a determination on the matter.

William Young, a consultant for the Acorn Street Association, which represents 18 homeowners, as well a longtime former employee of the Boston Landmarks Commission, provided the specifics of the gate proposal, which aims to temper the heavy pedestrian-traffic on Acorn Street that has increased dramatically in recent years, apparently due to the location’s popularity on Instagram and other social media, along with the increased trash, safety and noise issues that have come along with it.

A conceptual rendering of one option for the security gate proposed for Acorn Street.

“The picturesque view has become problematic because of Instagram popularizing people taking ‘selfies,’” said Young, who added that the street has also frequently become the site of professional fashion and bridal photo-shoots.  “It’s really become a bedeviling problem experienced by residents of Acorn Street.”

A recent independent survey commissioned by the applicant estimated that 2,000 visitors came to Acorn Street over the course of a weekend in late September or early October, said Tom Palmer, a public-relations consultant, with some arriving as early before 6 a.m. or as late as after midnight.

Additionally, no-trespassing signage, which was installed earlier this year, with the Architectural Commission’s approval to eliminate public access to Acorn Street, Young said, had subsequently been “cheerfully disregarded and considered another quaint feature of Acorn Street.”

Young also maintained that “gates across private ways are extremely numerous in the neighborhood, some more distinguished than others,” and that installing a gate on Acorn Street would be an “architecturally appropriate means of keeping [it] from being loved to death.”

Rob Whitney, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors, said installing the gate on a private way would set a “terrible” precedent for the neighborhood, and that the applicant was “premature” in coming to the Architectural Commission before bringing the matter first to the Public Improvement Commission.

“And this is just the first round. My guess is they fully intend to come back to the next meeting with the gate proposal,” Whiney said.

In a letter dated Nov. 18 that was obtained by this publication, Chris Osgood, chair of the Public Improvement Commission, wrote in part to the Architectural Commission: “Acorn Street is listed in the City’s Street Book as a private way. Due to this listing, emergency response personnel reasonably expect it to be open and immediately accessible at all times for emergency vehicle access. Should the owners of any private way wish to close their street, the street must be formally Abandoned through the City’s Public Improvement Commission (PIC). This involves, among other things, a title opinion showing the ownership of the private way, unanimous consent by all property owners to abandon the private way, a review of any existing utility infrastructure located on or under the street, prior approval by a number of City agencies, and public hearings before the PIC, which, in this case, would inevitably include broad comments from the public given the historic nature of this street.”

Commissioner Miguel Rosales recommended that the applicant return to the Architectural Commission following the PIC process “because we don’t know if [it] is going to be successful or not,” and if the application does in fact move forward with the application, he advised them to keep the design of the gate simple.

In another matter related to a violation issued to the homeowner of 4 Otis Place for unapproved exterior work, the commission voted to ratify a new railing installed at the street level, pending the submission of drawings to staff; new fire apparatus, pending a letter of approval from the Boston Fire Department; and an existing sprinkler system. But the commission also voted to deny the four windows that were installed in the penthouse without approval, and to instead only allow two of them, as was the original condition.

In addition, the applicant has installed inappropriate windows, a camera, an electrical outlet and several vents in the brick building façade, which must be rectified to comply with the commission’s guidelines in order for the existing violation to be lifted.  Other items that would need to be corrected, and which were voted on in the hearing last month, include modifying the front granite steps to remove an inconsistent flamed-finished and reducing the height of the penthouse by at least 2 feet.  The extensive number of outstanding violations must be rectified prior to issuing a legal certificate of occupancy by the city’s Inspectional Services Department, according to the commission.

Another violation citation was issued to the homeowner of 30 Chestnut Street (who also owns 4 Otis Place) for the unapproved removal of historic windows on the front and rear facades; the commission voted to ratify the work with the provisos that all replacement windows have a weight system and use historic glass, and that they be fabricated in wood to include true divided-lights. The homeowner would additionally be required to prepare shop drawings of all removed windows and submit them to staff for approval.

The commission also approved another application for the same address (30 Chestnut St.) to rebuild an existing chimney using hollow-core bricks, with provisos that staff approve the brick material and color, and that only matching ceramic chimney-caps are installed.

In another matter, the commission approved as submitted an application to install a new blade sign made of wood and using the existing hardware outside ouimillie, a store located at 126 Charles St. that specializes in European fashion, jewelry and decor.

The commission also approved an application to replace the front door and hardware, which included a 2¼-inch brass doorknob, as well as brass hinges and a brass mail-slot, at 24 Garden St. with the provisos that the new door be solid, without transom-windows and painted black.

Additionally, the commission approved as submitted an application for 55 West Cedar St. to replace 18 thermo-pane windows on the front façade, to paint the basement-level window grates and to repaint the front and rear doors and trim in kind, with the proviso that window cut-sheets and specs be submitted to staff for approval, and that items to be painted match the existing colors in-kind.

An application to replace 20 pairs of window shutters on two adjoining buildings at 45-47 Mount Vernon St. was also approved as submitted, with a change in color from the existing dark-green to black.

Likewise, the commission approved an application to replace two basement-level windows in kind at 104 Mount Vernon St., with provisos that the applicant provide a letter stating that the windows are beyond repair from an expert in the field, and that the applicant submit cut-sheets and shop drawings of the new windows to staff for approval.

The commission also approved an application for 74 Beacon St. to repair a leak in the rooftop pool, and to remove and replace the roof-deck and railing in-kind, with a proviso that if there is an issue with the prior approval of the railing, which is visible from a public way, as well as from the Boston Common and the Public Garden, it would come back to the commission for further review.

An application for 10 Walnut St. to replace a section of the front sidewalk made of blue bluestone slab with a section of wire-cut brick (a material which has been approved by the city for usage), and to add granite curbing was approved, with the proviso that the bluestone slabs be replaced in kind. (Use of wire-cut bricks was deemed unacceptable, since the bluestone is several decades old, and therefore, the commission insisted that the original material be preserved.)

The commission voted to approve an application for 20 West Cedar Street to replace windows and front-door hardware in kind, and to repaint the front-door dark blue, with the provisos that the proposed white door-surround be change to a historically appropriate white-color, and that a new ring camera be enclosed in a brass box to conceal it.  The applicant will also be allowed to replace a pendant light fixture and house number, but not to install privacy glass in the existing door’s clear glass “side-lites,” which should remain as is. 

The commission also voted to deny an application for 22 Irving St. to replace four two-over-two wood windows with four two-over-two aluminum-clad windows, since those types of windows don’t comply with the established district guidelines.

Moreover, an application to install a bronze memorial plaque on the front façade at 63 Mount Vernon St. was removed from the agenda at the applicant’s request, while an application to repaint the front door in-kind, to replace the door hardware and to replace a light fixture in-kind at 3 Sentry Hill Place was also removed because it was determined to be not visible from a public way and therefore exempt.

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