The Bay Village Historic District Commission held its second public meeting on Wednesday, March 30, to view mock-ups of two streetlights in the area of 212 Stuart St., which could become the standard for replacing Colonial gas streetlights with new LED electric light fixtures throughout the rest of that neighborhood, as well as in Beacon Hill and on Marlborough Street in the Back Bay.
Besides the light fixture set in the range of 2,500 Kelvin previously on display for the first meeting on March 14, which emitted an orange light, a newly installed second mockup set at 3,000 Kelvin, which emitted a whiter light, was also on display this time. Both lights were set at a target consumption level of 680 Lumens at 35 percent, according to city officials on hand for the March 30 meeting.
Asked why the second light wasn’t set in the range of 2,700 Kelvin, Mike Donaghy, associate electrical engineer with the city’s Public Works Department, said 3,000 Kelvin is more in line with existing gaslights, which, according to a recent study conducted by the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay Architectural Committee, fall in the range of 3,100 Kelvin.
Donaghy also assured those in attendance that the city “unequivocally” doesn’t plan to dig up the streets as part of this plan, although it’s still unclear whether the city would tackle the project one block at a time or on a larger scale.
Donaghy also said the project would “cost north of $30 million” in providing a rough projection of its comprehensive design, construction, and installation costs.
Dr. Alison Brizius, commissioner of the city’s Environment Department, said in the next couple of months, as part of the Renew Boston Trust – an initiative involving the city’s Environmental Department, the Public Facilities Department, and the Budget Office that conducts energy audits and makes energy conservation recommendations in regard to city-owned property – the city would undertake a citywide audit of all of its streetlights, including the existing electric fixtures, to determine which ones need to be upgraded. Afterward this study has been completed, the city is expected to have a better idea of the estimated cost for the proposed streetlight-conversion project, she said.
Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s chief of streets, said the city had come to the March 28 meeting with “samples for what we think is possible” to solicit public feedback on design, historical context, and lighting level before bringing these results to Renew Boston Trust.
(The Renew Boston Trust Process is expected to begin in the next few months, although the city has yet to determine the work included in each phase of the multi-phased project.)
“We don’t know what it’ll look like, and that’s by design,” said Franklin-Hodge, adding the city would be soliciting input from each neighborhood included in and affected by the proposed gaslight replacement project.
In addition to the more than 1,100 existing gas streetlights on Beacon Hill, there are 209 of them can be found on Marlborough Street in the Back Bay and another 160 in Bay Village, according to the city.
District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who grew up in Bay Village and was also on hand for the March 14 meeting, said, “This is an area where we have to get it right.”
Councilor Bok said this project is of particular interest to her, given both her extensive background in historic preservation, as well as on account of the city’s current commitment of transforming Boston into a “Green New Deal City.”
Sue Prindle, chair of the NABB’s Architectural Committee who was also on hand for the first meeting, urged city officials to make sure that connections to the converted streetlights are sealed at the gas main, rather than sealed at the individual “stub-offs,” which connect to homes, gas streetlights, and other outputs, to reduce the potential for gas leaks.
Despite this concern, Prindle said the light from the latest 3,000 Kelvin mock-up is “pretty close” to the light emitted by nearby existing gaslights, especially since “the brightness could be moderated.”
Likewise, Thomas Perkins, president of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association board of directors, also applauded the city on the latest mockup.
Perkins said while most people he had spoken with were already pleased with the earlier mockup, he thinks the new 3,000 Kelvin prototype should sufficiently address any concerns they still might have about the brightness and color of the light.
Ania Camargo, a resident of Temple Street on Beacon Hill and coordinator of the Downtown Mothers Out Front team, was also encouraged by what she saw at the March 30 meeting.
“We are impressed with the two LED retrofit lamps that the City put up in Bay Village that show it’s possible to keep the look of our beautiful lamps while using a cleaner, more efficient energy source,” Camargo wrote in an email. “‘Natural gas’ is primarily methane, which is a fossil fuel that harms our climate, causes air pollution and respiratory illness, is explosive, and when it leaks in the soil, suffocates our trees.
“In contrast, electricity will become greener over time as the state shifts to meet our statewide climate goals, and ramps up renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind, to green the electric grid,” added Camargo.