BHAC Votes To Continue Determination on Unapproved EV Charging Port

Following a lengthy discussion on the matter among commissioners that failed to reach a clear consensus, the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission voted unanimously  during its monthly public meeting held virtually on Thursday, March 16, to continue its determination by one month on a violation for the unapproved installation of an EV (Electric Vehicle) charging port cover at 6 Lousiburg  Square. The charging port is already mounted in the sidewalk and has a patinated bronze cover for its opening, which measures 12 inches by 12 inches and is flush with the sidewalk, sitting atop a 10-by-10 inch internal box, said Sandra Jahnes, a partner and studio director at Ruhl/Jahnes, who appeared at the meeting alongside William Ruhl, her fellow partner and creative director at the Watertown architectural firm. The cover installed is similar in style to those used in the neighborhood for sewer or water access, said Jahnes, and its “installation was inspired by a coal shoot, which are very present along Louisburg Square.” The same applicant had appeared before the commission in early 2021 for a charging port that used the same materials but had a smaller cover, said Jahnes, who chalked up the original measurements to an erroneous oversight, since the charging head itself inside  the internal box measures 8 inches long by 1.5 inches wide. “Without the dimensions, a liberty was taken,” she said, calling it a “misinterpretation of the Certificate of Design Approval.” (The existing charging head is only for a Tesla, said Jahnes, but the applicant is now considering another electric vehicle, which would likely require a longer charging head.) The existing installation allows for the chord to feed through the top of the cover when it’s closed to reduce tripping hazards, which, Jahnes said, likely wouldn’t be feasible with a smaller port cover. Jahnes requested that the commission ratify the existing installation at the homeowner’s request. Although Commissioner Alice Richmond commended the applicant for making the existing cover flush with the sidewalk, which has allowed for more bricks to be installed in the sidewalk, she expressed concern with the applicant’s decision to install something inconsistent with what had originally been approved without bringing the changes to the attention of the commission beforehand. “I have no problem with the aesthetics, but why didn’t you come back to commission?” asked Commissioner Richmond. “If we simply ratify something that ignores the original directive, I think we set a bad precedent for the rest of the community.” While Commissioner Ed Fleck pointed out  that “parking spots are generally on private ways, which should mitigate some concerns,” Arian Allen, vice chair of the commission, countered that the real issue at hand was that the applicant had ignored the commission’s feedback and instructions. Vice Chair Allen said the applicant had apparently subscribed to the old adage: “It’s better to ask for permission, than beg for forgiveness.” Commission Chair Mark Kiefer asked why the cover couldn’t be made smaller, like “an extant version of a smaller installation for the exact same purpose,” which was previously approved by commission and has since been installed at 11 Louisburg Square.               “The commission has to deal with new technologies and has to deal with them as they develop over time [as they are] often necessary for modern living or safety, or both,” said Chair Kiefer, adding that the commission tries to accommodate new technologies in a manner consistent with its guidelines. “We know that there are going to be more of these, but it’s quite early on in the process.” Although no guidelines are in place yet in the neighborhood’s historic district regarding EV ports, Chair Kiefer recommended that the commission move as quickly as possible to develop a “de facto standard.” Likewise, Commissioner Annette Given urged the applicant to “explore every avenue because it’s going to set a precedent, and we need to know what we’re getting into going forward.” In making the motion to continue the application, Chair Kiefer recommended giving the applicant at least one month to “determine their needs,” as well as to explore whether these needs could be feasibly accommodated using a smaller design. Once the commission approves a design, it still must be signed off on by Louisburg Square’s neighborhood association, however, advised Nicholas Armata, BHAC staff. In another matter, the commission voted unanimously to remedy a violation for the installation of an unapproved ButterflyMX intercom system at the front entrance of 87 Beacon St., and to approve the work as submitted to remedy the existing condition. Don Mills, the project architect, said this work would include filling in as much wood paneling around the intercom unit as possible, as well as restoring the look of the wood panel and covering the illuminated box. The encasement for the unit would have a “beaded edge” to match the beaded edge of the molding, said Mills, while the unit would have a hinged cover with the address inscribed and a stain lacquered finish. The cover would also feature stained brass hardware and protrude around 2 inches, with a folded edge, he added. Meanwhile, an application for 1 Chestnut St. to install a placard commemorating the property as the former residence of both Coretta Scott King and Henry Kissinger was scheduled for the meeting but withdrawn by the applicant. On hand for the meeting were Commission Chair Kiefer, Vice Chair Allen, and Commissioners Fleck, Given, Richmond, and Wen Wen.

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