BHAC Denies Request for Enlarged Garage Door on Rear Façade of 46 Beacon St.

A controversial proposal to create an enlarged door opening on the rear building façade for an internal garage, which came as part of an application for a full brownstone restoration of 46 Beacon St., was denied without prejudice at the monthly public hearing of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission held virtually on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Mainsail Management recently purchased the five-story, Italian Renaissance Revival townhouse, which was built by Eben Dyer Jordan Sr., co-founder of Jordan Marsh department store, circa 1898, 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, was last zoned as 16 apartments and “some offices,” said Guy Grassi, the project architect, while the applicant now proposes reducing the number of living units to six or eight, including a duplex on one floor, as part of the planned conversion.

After the application was broken into several portions to facilitate its review by the commission, the portion which entailed creating a door for an internal, enclosed garage on the building’s rear (north) façade facing Spruce Court by enlarging two existing openings faced questions from commissioners on hand at this point in the hearing who included Chair Mark Kiefer, Vice Chair Arian Allen, and Commissioners Ed Fleck, Alice Richmond, and Sandy Steele, who was then making her first appearance as a member of the commission. (Commissioner Annette Given recused herself for this application.)

Grassi said the owner of 46 Beacon St. is the legal owner of Spruce Court – a narrow, cobblestone way – although several neighbors on hand for the hearing, who all oppose the garage, disputed this claim.

Dan Schiff, a homeowner on Spruce Court, was among those who opposed the garage, and said the proposed, double-wide garage door would be located only 10 feet from his property line. He said this feature would “completely transform” the rear façade of 46 Beacon St. and expressed concern that it could permanently alter the quiet nature of Spruce Court, where there are currently no other garage doors as wide as what’s proposed.

Schiff also pointed out that the underground garage beneath the Boston Common is located in close proximity to 46 Beacon St, while Charlotte Thibodeau was among those who expressed concern that creating a new garage door as proposed by enlarging existing openings in a building facade could set a “very dangerous precedent” in the neighborhood, since BHAC guidelines don’t specifically allow for the creation of new penetrations in building facades.

Grassi countered that the project’s success entirely hinges on the fate of the garage to attract tenants to the project, especially given the expected high asking-prices of the spacious units.

Despite assertions by neighbors that the proposed garage could accommodate as many as 14 spaces, Grassi said the garage would contain only seven spaces and pointed out that what would take place inside the garage (i.e. the number of spaces) doesn’t fall under the purview of the commission, which only has jurisdiction over what’s visible from a public way.

Grassi also assured neighbors that the applicant has no intention of removing the cobblestone to pave Spruce Court. “It’s nonsense,” he said in response to rumors to this effect.

Chair Kiefer, who made the motion to deny the proposed garage door without prejudice, said he wasn’t comfortable forming a s subcommittee to further review this application due to the absence of a couple of commissioners. He also asked the applicant to return to the commission with some alternatives for the garage door.

Meanwhile, Chair Kiefer, Vice Chair Allen, along with Commissioners Fleck, Richmond, and Steele, unanimously approved other elements related to the building’s rear façade including the addition of a parapet at the northwest corner, together with a railing for two rear decks; the alteration of a fire escape on the eastern end of the property; and the reconfiguration of the top three stories of the “green bay” into a “trapezoid” design to be consistent with the lower levels.

In regard to the front façade of 46 Beacon St., Chair Kiefer, Vice Chair Allen, and Commissioners Fleck, Richmond, and Steele all approved numerous proposed changes, including the installation of a new intercom system; the replacement of a block infill with new black louvers at the basement level; and the restoration of wood windows on level one and the French windows on level two, as well as the replacement of all of the upper-level, vinyl windows, among other planned alterations. A roofdeck was also approved, with its details being remanded to BHAC staff (Nicholas Armata).  All mechanical equipment will be installed on the main roof in a location not visible from the street; the equipment will also be surrounded by acoustic fencing to minimize the noise impact.

The determination on this portion of the application came with a proviso that the applicant erect a mockup for a portion of the new precast concrete balusters proposed to replace the wood balusters to match the existing condition, which would then be referred to staff for approval.

Another proviso for this portion of the application put forth by Chair Kiefer specified that glass be reinstalled in back of the front-door gate.

The applicant was also asked to file an application for the reconfiguration of the sidewalk brick and the addition of a street-tree.

Regarding the side façade (the east elevation), Chair Kiefer, Vice Chair Allen, and Commissioners Fleck, Richmond, and Steele unanimously approved some aspects of the proposed work, including the addition of three new window openings in the stair tower at the rear of the property, which is only minimally visible from the areas of purview of the commission and doesn’t impact any architecturally/historically significant features. Three new proposed window openings in the “block”  of unpenetrated, blank façade were determined to be visible from the street and denied as well. Additionally, the removal and reconfiguration of the former connection to the mid-20th century squash court for the property, now a private residence at 8 Spruce Court, which Chair Kiefer described as a “remnant of a rare Bauhaus-style treatment of the property” that tells a story of the evolution of the building’s use, was also denied. Several other windows and decks were determined to be not visible from the street and thus exempt from review of the commission.

As Chair Kiefer also noted, the building, which was designated a local National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, is now proposed as an interior landmark per the Boston Landmarks Commission, pending a study report. Regardless of the outcome of that petition, the proposed work would still fall completely outside the purview of the commission, he said, which only has jurisdiction over what’s visible from a public way and ends at a building’s façade. Chair Kiefer added the building’s landmark status wouldn’t influence the commission’s determination on the application for exterior alterations to 46 Beacon St.

In another matter, Chair Kiefer, Vice Chair Allen, and Commissioners Curtis Kemeny, Fleck, Given, Richmond, and Steele voted unanimously to deny an application for 13-15 Pinckney St., to remove an existing skylight from atop a non-functioning shaft, which previously contained an elevator, and to replace it with a flat, rubber roof.

This determination came with provisos that the applicant return to the commission with a letter from an expert demonstrating an unfeasibility to replace the skylight; and that the applicant provide staff with a drawing or rendering “showing something put back to maintain the visual,” according to Chair Kiefer.

On an application for 103 Myrtle St. to modify an existing roofdeck, Chair Kiefer, Vice Chair Allen, and Commissioners Kemeny, Fleck, Given, Richmond, and Steele voted unanimously to approve the proposed work, which entails replacing a wood railing previously approved by the commission  at its April 20 hearing with a steel railing that would sit above simple cedar planks to cover the gap below it. The planks would be painted black, said Tim Burke, the project architect.

Burke, who offered two alternatives, described this (‘Option A’) as the applicant’s preferred option; it also garnered praise from Chair Kiefer, who called it a “thoughtful treatment of an unusual problem.”

This determination came with a proviso that the applicant furnish drawings to staff indicating the preferred Option A.

On an application for 20 David G. Mugar Way, Chair Kiefer, Vice Chair Allen, and Commissioners Kemeny, Fleck, Given, Richmond, and Steele unanimously approved as submitted the installation of new door hardware.

An application to replace a wooden flagpole with a metal option at 45 Beacon St. was also scheduled for the hearing but withdrawn by the applicant.

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