Civic Association Unanimously Votes to Support Motion to Make Amendments to Beacon Hill Historic District Language

At its Dec. 13 meeting at the Boston Athenaeum – their first in-person gathering since the pandemic struck – the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors voted unanimously on a motion to support the enactment of a Home Rule Petition by the City Council to amend the language for the Enabling Act that created the Beacon Hill Historic District to expand its boundaries, among other changes.

“One purpose of the motion would be to ask the Council to draft legislation that would enlarge the District to include all of the North Slope, by adding to the District an approximately 40-foot-wide area running from Charles Circle to Bowdoin Street along Cambridge Street on the Beacon Hill side that is currently not included from the District,” said Rob Whitney, chair of the Civic Association board. “As a result of an historic anomaly, this section of Beacon Hill’s North Slope was excluded from the District when the rest of the North Slope was added to District in 1963 by Chapter 622 of the Acts of 1963.”

This omission, said Whitney, apparently came in response to concerns that including the entire North Slope in the Historic District could impede the city’s plan to build a new fire station on Cambridge Street.

(On Oct. 28, 1963, the Bowdoin Square firehouse was closed, with Engine 4 and Ladder 24 temporarily moving downtown to 123 Oliver St., while a new firehouse was constructed at 200 Cambridge St., which opened on Cambridge Street on May 3, 1965, when Engine Company 4 and Ladder Company 24 moved in.)

Another purpose of the motion, said Whitney, would be to give the Beacon Hill Architectural the “specific authority to levy fines for violations” – because although the Enabling Act does currently allow for fines to be imposed on violators, “it does not specifically state that the BHAC can levy such fines” and subsequently “the BHAC is unable to punish repeated violations of the Enabling Act.”

A final purpose of the motion, according to Whitney, would be to ensure that any reconstruction of an exterior feature, which has been fully or partially demolished for  any “public safety reasons,” as determined by the Building Commissioner,  is “done within the architectural requirements of the Enabling Act” – something currently deemed to be outside of the jurisdiction of the BHAC.

In another matter, the Civic Association board voted unanimously to ratify the BHAC Zoning and Licensing Committee unanimous vote to not oppose a proposed fifth-floor roofdeck at 112 Pinckney St.

Access to the proposed roofdeck would be via an existing hatch, said Tom Clemens, committee co-chair, as opposed to via a new headhouse, which would have resulted in an increased FAR (Floor Area Ratio).

The proposed roofdeck would still require three other variances, however, said Clemens, including for building height, which seems to be an issue in regard to the district’s 65-foot height limit, as well as for insufficient front- and side-yard setbacks.

Because of a pediment feature on the front of the building’s exterior and the low height of the proposed roofdeck, which would be flush with the building itself, as well on account of the applicant’s plan to replace an existing HVAC unit at the small level with a “less obtrusive one,” the impact of the proposed roofdeck is expected to be minimal, said Clemens. The applicant intends to install a “green roof” on the building as well.

There was also no opposition from abutters to the proposal, said Clemens.

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