Suffolk University Building Upgrades Are Put on Hold

By Beth Treffeisen

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (BHAC) decided to continue the application for 45 Temple Street, that will transform the former institutional buildings into residential units, at the hearing on Thursday, December 15, due to too many outstanding issues.

The applicant, JDMD Owner, LLC, a real estate company based in Dedham, Massachusetts, have been asked to return next month with more design changes based on the suggestions by the Commission.

“It really is important to get it right,” said Mark Kiefer the Chairman of the Board of the Beacon Hill Civic Association. “This project is huge…it’s the biggest construction probably in Beacon Hill in a century.”

This proposal includes modifying the north, east and west facades, creating a passageway between Temple Street and Ridgeway Lane. It also includes constructing a rooftop addition to cover mechanical equipment with a roof deck and living space.

This is the second time this design was brought up for a vote before the Commission. The last time was November 17. Prior to these hearings this project also held two advisory meetings to discuss changes to their design but no votes were taken.

The Archer building at 61 Temple Street was built in 1920 and the Donahue Building at 33 Temple Street was constructed in 1966. Both of these were exempt for BHAC review under Suffolk University but since they’ve changed ownership now have to go through the historic landmark process.

The residential units will hold 75 condos and have 60 parking spaces in an underground garage according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

According to the City’s legal counsel the proponents have obtained all of their zoning permits and have no outstanding violations with the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and can move forward to be reviewed by the BHAC.

Nothing has been filed to appeal or challenge the proponents.

“You have made a great number of changes since we’ve studied this and I appreciate that,” said Chair Kenneth Taylor. “But there are still four major problems.”

Those include the increase of elevation of the roof, the stripping of the façade and replacement of it on the Donahue building, asking to add windows, and changing the windows in the Archer building from aluminum to steel.

“In my opinion, you shouldn’t open more windows in that façade,” said Commissioner Miguel Rosales. “I think if you are creative than you can make it work.”

Chair Taylor also would like to see the floor plans for the roof top addition stating that at this point they don’t see proper justification for what they are trying to do up there. The proposal currently has four large apartments and roof decks as part of that addition.

“I looked at the mock ups and what you’re proposing is a lot larger than I thought it would be,” said Chair Taylor. “It surprised me that it would be that visible.”

The roof addition will only been seen from places outside the historic district but the BHAC still has jurisdiction over any public view.

“It looks like you’re putting a big hat on the building,” said Commissioner Rosales. “It’s inappropriate for a building like this – it’s a historic building.”

The Commissioners also voiced concerns over the materials being used and asked that they look at some more traditional choices used in Beacon Hill.

“This is not Disney World,” said Commissioner Paul Donnelly. “It has to respond in terms of scale and with specific materials.”

Martha J. McNamara the director of New England Arts and Architecture Program at Wellesley College and 30-year resident of Beacon Hill pointed out that the Donahue building is just as important as the Archer, despite it having a somewhat unfavorable mid-century façade.

McNamara stated that they shouldn’t alter the building without a good reason to do it.

“By obliterating it we are loosing a part of our history,” said McNamara.

Greg Galer the executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance doesn’t want this project to set a precedent for other developers in the future coming to Beacon Hill and asked the Commission to seek full justification for the changes proposed.

“It’s a complex process,” said Chair Taylor. “As we see a new penthouse and see new things we haven’t seen before, we want to work towards getting it as right as we can.”

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