On a controversial application for the Eben Jordan Mansion at 46 Beacon St., the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission voted unanimously to deny the installation of any garage door on the building’s rear façade while approving as submitted the repaving of the front brick sidewalk during the commission’s monthly hearing held virtually on Thursday, Dec. 21.
Mainsail Management purchased the five-story, Italian Renaissance Revival townhouse earlier this year from the Unification Church for $20.5 million. The 50,000 square-foot building, which has undergone numerous transformations and been modified via an array of additions over the years, is poised to be redeveloped into eight, large dwelling units.
During last week’s hearing, Guy Grassi, the project architect who was also on hand for the BHAC’s Nov. 16 virtual hearing when the commission first reviewed the extensive application for the full brownstone restoration of 46 Beacon St., presented three new alternatives for creating a “hidden door system” to access the building’s proposed internal garage, which would accommodate somewhere between seven and 14 vehicles. (The interior architectural plans for the garage are still incomplete, he said, so the number of vehicles remains undetermined.)
The entrance to the garage would be created by enlarging and combining two existing penetrations in the building’s rear (north) façade facing Spruce Court, a small private way, while removing a brick pier between the two openings – one of which was originally a window that has been infilled to create a door, said Grassi. To access the new garage, the project proposes the creation of a granite curbcut going into the building, flanked by brick sidewalks on both sides.
Although the applicant hasn’t completed feasibility studies for any of the ‘hidden door’ options yet, in all three alternatives, the approximately 13-foot-wide, steel-frame door would operate with hydraulics and be equipped with a steel armature, said Grassi. The 5,000-6,000-pound door would swing inwards against the wall on the west side. Reused masonry from a brick pier and reused veneer masonry would be built into the structure’s exterior to nearly obscure the door in a closed position from visibility from a distance on a public way (i.e. 75 feet away on Spruce Street), said Grassi.
At its Nov. 16 hearing, the commission denied without prejudice a portion of the application for 46 Beacon St., which proposed creating an “overhead,” sectional garage door that could be rendered to resemble a pair of gates when in a closed position; this option, along with all three alternatives for the proposed ‘hidden door’ deign, was rejected by the commission at its Dec. 21 hearing per its determination then to not allow any new garage door opening on Spruce Court.
On hand for this application at the Dec. 21 hearing were Commission Chair Mark Kiefer, Vice Chair Arian Allen, and Commissioners Maurice Finegold, Ed Fleck, Ralph Jackson Curtis, Kenemy, Alice Richmond, and Sandy Steele. (Commissioner Annette Given was on hand earlier in the hearing and weighed in on all other applications before the last matter, 46 Beacon St., when she recused herself from the deliberation and signed off for the evening.)
During public testimony at the Dec. 21 hearing, a number of neighbors expressed a range of concerns with anticipated impacts of the proposed garage door – some of which fell outside the commission’s immediate purview, which applies only to external changes visible from a public way or park, such as the Boston Common or the Charles River Esplanade; their concerns included potential damage to the cobblestone on Spruce Court caused by vehicles accessing the garage, as well as how the project could potentially change the nature of Spruce Court as a quiet, private way, especially when considering that the garage door could be open for as long as an hour each day.
Some neighbors balked at Grassi’s assertion that the project necessitates on-site parking to make it feasible in light of the expected high selling prices for its dwelling units.
Liz Downing asked why the project couldn’t be reimagined to comprise 14 to 16 dwelling units but no parking. “I fail to see the problem with that solution,” she said.
Others in opposition to the project asserted that creating the proposed door via enlarging and combining two existing penetrations would in effect create a new opening in a building façade in direct violation of BHAC guidelines.
Rep. Jay Livingstone also voiced his opposition to the proposed garage door, according to Nicholas Armata, BHAC staff.
In contrast, the project garnered written support from more than 40 respondents, including City Council President Ed Flynn.
Outgoing City Councilor at-Large Michael Flaherty, who was making his final appearance as an elected official at the hearing, also offered his support for this application.
Councilor Flaherty said he believes the proposed garage could go a long to helping towards alleviate the “parking crunch on Beacon Hill’s crowded streets.” After visiting the site a few days earlier, he said he concluded that the door would be “barely visible from Spruce Street.” The perceived benefits would far outweigh any drawbacks anticipated from the project, he said, which could perhaps serve as a “catalyst” for future redevelopment projects in the neighborhood.
In another matter, the commission voted to ratify a violation for the unapproved installation of two unapproved light fixtures at 29 Branch St., as well to approve the installation of a single new light fixture in their place. This determination came with a proviso that the applicant install the new light fixture through the mortar in the brick, rather than through the conduit. The applicant also agreed to remove a utility box located on the left-hand side of the wall. Commissioner Fleck, who was not on hand to hear the entire matter, abstained from voting on this application.
The commission unanimously approved an application for new signage for 25 Willow Boutique – a new business expected to open in January in the space formerly occupied by Beacon Hill Framery upstairs at 73 Charles St. The proposed signage, which replace signage for the old business and reuse existing hardware, would comprise a carved-mahogany circular blade sign, measuring 30 inches in diameter, and a carved-mahogany wall sign, said Emma Walsh, proprietor of 25 Willow Boutique.
On an application for 11 Louisburg Square, the commission unanimously approved the proposed work, which included the replacement of the handrails on either side of the front door with a simpler design; the removal of the existing doorbell and street numbers to replace them with a more appropriate door hardware; and the installation of an EV (Electric Vehicle) charging port in the sidewalk. This determination came with the proviso that the cover plate for the new charging port be rendered to resemble the one found at 6 Louisburg Square, rather than the cover plate at 18 Louisburg Square.
On an application for 22 Revere St., the commission unanimously approved proposed work, including replacing the door hardware (i.e. the doorknob and street numbers); adding a kickplate; and painting the front door black (in kind).
Likewise, the commission unanimously approved as submitted an application to replace an exterior door at the side elevation of 127 Mt. Vernon St.
On an application for the American Meteorological Society headquarters at 45 Beacon St., the commission unanimously approved as submitted the replacement of a set of existing flagpoles with a set of white, wooden, commercial-grade flagpoles; this determination came with provisos that existing masonry be reused in the mortar joints, or new hardware be screwed into mortar joints; and that details of the mounting hardware be remanded to staff.
The commission also unanimously approved an application to repaint the front door at 7 Chestnut St. black, which came with a request that the applicant consider another historically appropriate paint color.
On an application for 1 Otis Place, the commission unanimously approved the proposed installation of a new, ceiling-mounted light fixture, with a “faux black bronze finish.”
The commission also unanimously approved as submitted an application for 31 Chestnut St., with proposed work including the installation a new intercom system with a brass cover in the same location as an existing one; the installation of new door hardware, except for the doorknob, which would remain; and the replacement of the existing hardware in kind. This determination came with a proviso that a more traditional thumb-latch be used; and that details of its placement on the door be delegated to staff.
Moreover, an application for a new roofedck at 54 Pinckney St. scheduled for the hearing was removed from the agenda at the request of the applicant.
Likewise, an application for 76 Revere St. to paint the front door Codman Claret was also withdrawn by the applicant.