BVHDC hears what is probably the last advisory review for Isabella St. condo proposal

The Bay Village Historic District Commission (BVHDC) met virtually on Feb. 9, where members heard another advisory review for the condominium proposal at 19 Isabella St., the former Our Lady of Victories Church. No vote is taken on advisory review proposals until they come before the Commission with an official design review proposal. 

The project has been before the Commission several times already, including last month, where Commissioners had an overall positive response to the proposal, but asked to see some more details and renderings from different angles on the street to gain more clarity of the scope of the project.

Tony Hsiao of Finegold Alexander Architects went into some more detail about the impact of the proposed addition on Isabella St. 

Hsiao said that “there are a few minor refinements which we are studying,” and the team is “looking to simplify some of the areas.”

One of the new changes from last time includes the proposal of a “decent sized granite curb” to allow for planting to occur, as there is a vault underneath the front portion of the church. The previously proposed curb was lower, but the new one would be 12 inches high to accommodate plantings appropriately.

Hsiao showed the building from other views on the street, such as towards the Hancock building, which were not shown at other hearings. He also showed the building head-on.

“You cannot see the addition straight on,” he explained. “The massing of the existing church covers it.”

He also showed the alleywayson either side of the building and how the addition could be viewed. He said that the addition can be seen from they alleyway to the right of the church, but it is “pretty discreet” and “modest” from that angle.

Hsiao then showed the view from the rear of the buildings, which is the Arlington St. side, which he said has not changed from last time save for some “minor refinements” on window proportions.

He then explained what the existing modifications to the church will be, including cutting down the windowsills at the east, west, and north sides to the stone band for accommodation of the units, there will be all new replacement windows in the church with mullion and muntin patterns  to match what is currently there, the color of the windows in the church building will match the existing dark green, the existing front entry stairs will be demolished and arched entries will be created at grade for accessibility, and the existing wood front doors will be repurposed as side panels on the first level, according to the presentation. 

“I think that really clarified a lot,” said Commissioner Ruth Knopf, referring to the new angles presented.

“For me it fleshed it out,” Commissioner Anne Kilguss agreed. “I think it’s a beautiful use of this property. I think you’ve done a nice job.”

Commissioner Steve Dunwell said “I agree with Ruth and Anne,” but said he didn’t feel that the new “representations were quite at the same level of professionalism as the rest of your work.” He added that he felt the “severe keystoning is a little distracting,” as Hsiao warned that some of the new images were distorted in areas. “I personally thought that it was not at the same level as your excellent renderings that we saw in other places,” Dunwell said. 

He also asked about the alley on the lefthand side and who has responsibility for it.

Rebecca Berry of Finegold Alexander Architects explained that another developer had purchased the former church’s Parish House and redeveloped it. They were also looking to redevelop the church but ultimately were not able to make that happen, so the “property was subdivided.” 

She said that “this space between the former Parish House and the church on the right belongs to the Marc Condominiums.” Berry also said there is an easement for this property.

Hsiao added that since there is a “common shared interest” for both buildings, “we need to make it work for both developments,” as both need to use this alleyway.

“I would suggest that you have fairly good lighting,” Kilguss said. Dunwell asked if the entry on this side will be cleaned up.

Berry said that there will be an improvement with the new doors and windows, especially once the brick is cleaned. 

“That will certainly happen,” she said, adding that the pavement in that alley is new from the Marc Condominium construction. 

Several neighbors spoke about the project positively, and the Commission also seemed pleased with this latest iteration.

Berry said the project has not been before the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) yet, and the team will “very shortly” be filing their Article 80 application with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) said that the next step for the team will be to submit an application for a vote by the Commission barring any other major changes. 

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