Bay Village Historic District Commission Approves Electrified Streetlights

The Bay Village Historic District Commission unanimously approved the installation of nine new electrified streetlights as part of an ongoing development project at  212 Stuart St. at its April 12 public hearing, which took place virtually.

Greystar, the developer of a 19-story residential tower at 212 Stuart St., had applied to install seven new light fixtures, which are LED replicas of the existing gas lamps, while the remaining two fixtures would be twin-globe LED streetlight poles designed to “look exactly like the existing poles along Stuart Street,” according to the city, which had asked the developer to make upgrades along Stuart Street as part of the project.

At an on-site meeting on March 14 sponsored by the Bay Village Historic District Commission, a mock-up of a proposed light fixture was unveiled set in the range of 2,500 Kelvin and emitting an orange shade of light. In response to public feedback received, another mockup was displayed during a second on-site public meeting sponsored by the Commission on March 30 – this one set in the range of 3,000 Kelvin  and emitting a whiter shade of light.

“We think with the collaboration of Bay Village residents and the Commission, we found the right balance,” said Mike Donaghy, associate electrical engineer with the city’s Public Works Department, of the second mockup. “It’s a very close match to the light rendering [of the existing gas streetlights in the area],” he added.

Of the second mockup, Commission Stephen Dunwell said, “It’s as close as you could possibly wish to achieve with the new replica situation. The new color is excellent. I think this is what restoration looks like, and I’m fully in favor.”

Thomas Perkins, president of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association board of directors, voiced his support for the second mockup and said that the group’s  Executive Committee had met last week to discuss this issue, at which time they voted to remove their previous objections to the proposal.

Perkins said “unscientifically” about four to one neighborhood residents he had spoken to are in favor of the new light fixtures, “although some people have an emotional attachment to the gas lamps.”

Added Perkins, “I have enough comfort with the second protype as long as it’s turned down in intensity.”

In response to a question from Perkins on the “enabling legislation,” which allows for the installation of the new light fixtures, even when the Bay Village Historic District’s design guidelines specifically state that the historic gas streetlights can’t be altered, Joe Cornish, the Boston Landmarks Commission’s director of design review, said in the past, exceptions have been made to these rules in unique cases and due to extenuating circumstances.

The city has also been working for several years now on updating the design guidelines for the Bay Village Historic District, added Cornish, and they hope to have the new guidelines ready for final review and approval in the coming months as part of a public process.

As for the city’s next steps with this initiative, Donaghy said “strategically, [the city] doesn’t have a plan” and added that the application’s approval wouldn’t give the city the power to replace existing gas streetlights with electrified fixtures elsewhere in Bay Village or in other Boston neighborhoods.

Donaghy described the streetlight pilot as a  “gateway to a thoughtful and collaborative project” in Bay Village and elsewhere in the city, but he added that the process wouldn’t move forward without a “thoughtful discourse” with Bostonians.

Likewise, Ryan Souls, Greystar’s development director, said this doesn’t have to be the “last conversation” on this matter, and that he anticipates further conversation with the public if new lighting options become available. “realize this is probably an ongoing conversation and something that will continue to iterate,” said Souls.

The motion to approve the application, put forward by Commission Chair Kathleen McDermott, also had several provisos, including that its approval wouldn’t set a precedent for the installation of similar lighting fixtures in Bay Village, and that future streetlight applications would require further review.

Greystar had originally filed an application for the installation of several LED streetlamps for consideration at the Bay Village Historic District Commission’s January meeting, but the developer ultimately withdrew its application amid concerns raised at that time by the Bay Village Neighborhood Association.

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