BHAC Denies Application for New Front Door at Future Home of Beacon Hill Books and Café

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission voted three to one to deny an application to replace the existing front door at 71 Charles St. – the future home of Beacon Hill Books and Café – “with an exact replica in mahogany with glass panels on top” at its Dec. 16 monthly public hearing, which took place virtually. Melissa Fetter, proprietor of the future business expected to open around May, said her intention to replace the door was for “public safety, not an aesthetic concern” because, as she maintains, there is only a small landing outside the door to stand on, while the sidelights don’t provide an adequate view of the area on the other side of the door and an existing transom further obscures the sightlines. As a result of these conditions, someone could be easily knocked down on the other side of the door, she said, particularly a child.

“This is temporary solution, which we hope will satisfy commission,” said Fetter, who added that the door also serves as an emergency egress for the building. Additionally, Fetter committed to preserving the existing door and storing it on the property so it could be “rehung when the building is no longer a bookstore.” Nick Armata, BHAC staff, said the commission had received numerous letters from neighbors supporting the application. Commissioners Martha McNamara, Annette Given, and Arian Allen voted to deny the application, while Commissioner Alice Richmond cast the sole dissenting vote because, she said, she felt that strongly that denying the request would unnecessarily put people at risk. Commissioner McNamara, on the other hand, said the existing door appeared to original, describing it as a “great example of a historic element of this building, and one of the most character-defining features,” and added, “once the door is gone, we have no ability to retrieve it and put it back in place.”

As an alternative, Commissioner McNamara suggested that the main entrance to the business could be a smaller door set lower on the right-hand side when facing the building, which previously served as the main entrance to the erstwhile Hungry I restaurant at the location. Richard Pignataro, an architect for the project, countered this wouldn’t be a practical solution because he estimates that door is only about 5 feet, 2 inches tall. Fetter said they had also installed an elevator in the building that has a large footprint, and which would greatly limit them from being able to reconfigure the entryway and vestibule for the existing door. Moreover, Fetter expressed frustration with the commission’s determination and said she is “offended by the lack of accommodation when [she’s] trying to do something for the community.” She also said she had spent the past two and a half years and a significant sum of money bringing the building up a standard not met by many by many, if any, other buildings on Charles Street. Added Fetter, “We’re a couple of months away from being done so it’s on you guys when people get knocked down.” The commission also voted to approve as submitted an application to install new air exchangers on the rooftop of 14 Beacon St., which are intended to help the Boston Athenaeum to better preserve the priceless collection of books and other artifacts when the museum when it expands from its current home at 10½ Beacon St. into the first, fifth, and sixth floors next door at 14 Beacon St. The commission’s unanimous approval came with provisos that at least three of the units visible from Beacon Street would be painted a patina-green color, and that the matter would then be referred to  subcommittee comprising Commissioners McNamara, Given, and Richmond. If the subcommittee then finds the condition unacceptable, the applicant will need to return to the commission with a plan to screen the units.               

In another matter, the` commission also unanimously approved an application for 77 Chestnut St., carried over from last month’s hearing, to install a new brass door handle and house numbers in the entry way, along with a pendant light and intercom/keypad system with a camera for security purposes. This came with provisos that the door numbers be smaller than the proposed 7¼ inches, which would be remanded to staff for approval, while a subcommittee comprising Commissioners McNamara, Given, and Richmond would need to approve a smaller intercom/keypad system. The commission also approved an application for 8 Spruce St., with proposed work that includes removing an existing red mailbox and replacing the existing intercom with a “grill-like modernist unit,” as well as replacing scones with a more traditional light fixture at the front door, according to the applicant, Frank McGuire. Also among the extensive modifications proposed for the building – a small, three-story, white stucco building McGuire, an architect by profession,  described as his “Beacon Hill Bauhaus baby” – also include replacing all the windows visible from a public space, which, he said, are in “terrible condition,” as well as removing exterior egress to what was previously a third-floor studio apartment. The proposed changes, according to McGuire, are part of a plan to convert the building back to a single-family residence for his daughter from its previous use for the past 50 years of two apartments, including the upstairs studio apartment, when it was previously owned by a New York family trust. The commission unanimously approved the application as submitted, with the proviso that two grates beneath the first-floor windows be retained.    

On an application for 28 Pinckney St. to alter a garage door opening previously approved by the commission, the commission this time voted to unanimously approve a second option to replace a “wooden header” presented by the applicant, who agreed with staff to move the garage door and glass transom forward enough to be flush with the garage opening. The commission chose this alternative over the applicant’s preferred option, which entailed filling in a gap above the garage door with a granite lintel as that approach would’ve introduced an additional materiel to the structure.               

By a vote of 3-1, the commission also unanimously approved an application for 38 Pinckney St. to replace a rubber-roofed deck, and to replace an existing picket-fence roofdeck rail with a wrought-iron metal rail. (The application also originally included the replacement of a lattice screen, but that was removed as Commissioner McNamara said it wasn’t visible from a public way.) This came with the proviso that the new railing be moved back 6 inches from the edge of the wall, although the applicant said they would consider keeping the existing railing, if that would mean keeping it in its current location. The commission also approved an application for 44 Phillips St. to replace an existing headhouse with one two feet taller, as well as to replace the existing roofdeck. This came with the proviso that the height of the headhouse be reduced if possible; the applicant replied its height could be reduced by about 6 inches. Additionally, an application for 11 Irving St. to relocate the intercom system to ratify the unapproved existing buzzer was unanimously approved as submitted, with the proviso that the new console be affixed through the mortar joints. The intention here, according to the applicant, to help facilitate the delivery of packages to the residence, and this also comes on the heels of last month’s determination by the commission to ratify the unapproved installation of a security gate at the garden level of the same address. (That applicant said at last month’s hearing, the gate had been installed there to block access to a recessed well, which had frequently been the site of open drug use, sex acts, and public defecation.) An application for a new sign at 131 Charles St. and a violation for 29 Pinckney St. to ratify an unapproved window replacement both appeared on the agenda but ultimately weren’t heard due to a failure to appear by the respective applicants. Moreover, an application for a new viewing platform at 83 Mount Vernon St. was determined to be exempt from the commission’s review, while applications to remove and rebuild a deck at 73 Mount Vernon St., and to install a new light fixture at  160 Mount Vernon St., respectively, were both removed from the agenda by staff.

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