Category: Back Bay

Charlesgate Alliance Moves Forward with Plan to Reclaim Forgotten City Neighborhood

March 23, 2018

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The Charlesgate Alliance is energized and optimistic as the spring equinox approaches, according to a press release from the group established with the goal of piecing back together a forgotten Boston neighborhood that abuts the Back Bay and Fenway and runs adjacent to Kenmore Square and was lost more than half a century ago to construction of the Bowker Overpass.

And building on this growing momentum, it will hold another public meeting in Room 545 of a BU building at 545 Bay State Road on April 9 at 7 p.m., with representatives from Somerville’s Landing Studios on hand to present their latest designs. Light refreshments will also be served.

“We want as much public participation and feedback at that meeting as possible because both Landing Studio, and [the Alliance] are doing our best to develop these designs in a manner that will serve the public interest,” wrote Parker James, who co-founded the Alliance last in February of 2017 with neighbor Pam Beale. “Please attend and let us know what you think and want.”

The Alliance has also two events scheduled for April 28:  starting at 9 a.m., the group will sponsor the Charlesgate portion of the Muddy River cleanup and, later that day, its fundraising committee will host “Charlesgate in Bloom,” an upscale early evening gathering in the lobby area of the Bradley Mansion at 409 Commonwealth Ave., with themed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Committee members planning this event include Lisa Hazen, Maddy Segal, Tina Sykes, Rachel Bakish and George Lewis.  Tickets, which are limited and cost $75 each, can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/charlesgate-in-bloom-tickets-43795821481.

Meanwhile, James extended the Alliance’s gratitude to Sen. Will Brownsberger; Reps. Jay Livingstone and Byron Rushing, and City Councilor Josh Zakim.

“The ongoing support and practical advice we receive from these individuals is valuable beyond description, and we will never forget their contributions to our effort,” James wrote. “We would also like to thank the following for their invaluable effort, advice, and support: Karen Mauney-Brodek of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, who is our greatest ally; Patrice Kish of [the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation,] who is a national leader in historic parks and an expert on Olmsted’s designs; Fran Gershwin of the MMOC, a tireless advocate for water quality improvements in the Muddy River basin; and others who are too numerous to name at the moment.”

While the Alliance has yet to sign a memorandum of understanding, James said both DCR and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) “have been very forthcoming and seem willing to partner and collaborate with us in [these] efforts.”

James wrote, “We have very high hopes that we can develop a formal partnership with them to ultimately realize a tenable, community-led solution for this long-neglected part of the city. Our gratitude goes out to all of our supporters, especially to our Leadership group, who contribute so much of themselves to this effort. Anyone can join our group at any level of interest, although the Leadership group is the best way to get involved actively.”

Leadership meetings are typically held at 7 p.m. on the first day of each month at the ENC’s Shattuck Visitor Center at 125 Fenway. No R.S.V.P. is necessary.

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Proposed ‘Digital Urban Panels’ Meeting with Strong Opposition

February 14, 2018

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A capacity crowd was on hand at the State Transportation Building on Thursday, Feb. 8, when the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) Office of Outdoor Advertising reviewed an application to install multiple “digital urban panels” at four MBTA stations.

Boston-based Outfront Media, LLC, represented by John Mahoney, the company’s director of business development, filed 12 separate applications with the OOA, including two locations at the Aquarium station – one at Atlantic Avenue and State Street, the other at State Street and Old Atlantic Avenue; four locations at the Arlington station – three at Arlington and Boylston streets and a fourth at Berkeley and Boylston streets; four locations at Back Bay station, with two at Columbus Avenue and Clarendon Street and the remaining pair at 145 Dartmouth St.; and two at Park Street station – one at 128 Tremont St., the other at Tremont and Winter streets.

The so-called “digital urban panels” would display advertising, as well as real-time, scheduling information for commuters.

John Romano, OOA director, said the signage was considered “street furniture,” rather than electronic billboards, and is therefore subject to different restrictions.

Rachel Thurlow of Hancock Street said she would like to better understand State Secretary of Transportation and MassDOT CEO Stephanie Pollack’s rationale for classifying the signage as such and Federal Highway Administration’s reason for supporting this claim.

In a joint-letter to Romano, Sens. William Brownsberger and Joseph Boncore and Reps. Jay Livingstone, Aaron Michlewitz and Byron Rushing voiced their opposition towards the signage proposed within the Back Bay Historic District, as well as on Arlington and Tremont streets.

“The proposed ‘digital urban panels’ would not be in harmony with the visual character of the neighborhood,” they wrote. “The proposed panel placements are also immediately adjacent to the Boston Common and Public Garden, two of the most visited parks anywhere. We should not allow digital urban billboards to interfere with the beauty and enjoyment of these parks.”

Livingstone also said he hopes MassDOT would reconsider the decision to place the signage on the Boston Common and Public Garden and pledged he would continue “working with [his] colleagues to stop the effort.”

In a Feb. 5 letter to Romano, City Councilor Josh Zakim objected to installing billboard at the Arlington, Back Bay and Park Street stations.

“These ‘digital urban panels’ would clearly violate the Back Bay Architectural Commission Commercial Guidelines, which state: ‘Box signs are inappropriate… Illumination shall be static or steady-burning; animated or flashing effects are inappropriate, as are televisions, projected screens, LED and any future technology which incorporates movement,’” Zakim wrote. “The approval of these applications would set a negative precedent, allowing the widespread use of electronic advertising on MBTA stations to endanger the character of our historic neighborhoods. The proposed electronic advertisements also appear to violate MassDOT’s own regulations on outdoor advertising, as all are within [300] feet of parks.”

In a Feb. 8 letter to Romano, Leslie Singleton Adam, chair of the Friends of the Public Garden’s board of directors, strongly opposed the proposed signage at Arlington and Park Street stations.

“There are opportunities for indoor placement of panels that can achieve the MBTA’s advertising and informational goals without the visual and light pollution of the current proposal,” Adam wrote. “Given the revenue projections, the negative impact of these signs amounts to selling Boston’s public and historic landscapes for a pittance.”

In a Feb. 1 letter to Romano, Vicki Smith, president of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, voice her objection to the proposed signage at the Arlington Street station.

“When Outfront Media first proposed the Urban Panels in 2015, there was a public outcry against them and their detrimental impact on the adjacent historic structures,” Smith wrote. “It is disheartening to see an even more intrusive proposal presented only three years later.”

Romano said the OOA would take the applications under advisement.

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Livingstone Seeking Regulations for Local Airbnbs

February 2, 2018

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State Rep. Jay Livingstone of Beacon Hill will be focusing his legislative efforts on a number of bills this year, including the regulation of Airbnbs in the city.

Airbnb, which began in 2008, is a company that helps people rent short-term lodging in apartments, homes, and other residences through an online service.

“What’s happening, particularly in Beacon Hill, is some people have started to buy buildings and turn them in to Airbnbs that can be short-term rentals,” said Livingstone. “So basically those buildings can act as a hotel without any of the permits of a business operating in a residential district.”

Livingstone said at the state level, officials hope to enact a regulatory scheme to allow cities to have options on how they’re going to treat Airbnb rentals.

He believes that for densely populated areas like Beacon Hill, “people should need the permits of a hotel operating in a residential district before they can buy a building and basically act as a hotel.”

Livingstone said that he knows there are two properties on Beacon Hill where this type of rental operation has begun.

“I know of at least two, one on Chestnut Street and one on West Cedar Street,” he said.

Livingstone said the goal is to pass a state law that gives municipalities such as the city of Boston options on how to regulate Airbnbs.

“I would like to see Boston have the regulatory authority to require businesses that are going to act as hotels to get the permits that hotels need,” said Livingstone. “There is a full zoning process that they need to go through in order to do that, and it’s not happening with respect to these Airbnb buildings in Beacon Hill.”

He said his colleague in the House of Representatives, State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, has filed a bill on the regulation of Airbnbs. Livingstone expects the bill will be debated in the House of Representatives next month.

“I’ve worked with Aaron on this bill,” said Livingstone. “He’s worked hard to build consensus on this issue and I think a lot of people see issues that have arisen because there is no regulatory scheme in place.”

Livingstone said he will also be focusing on legislation pertaining to Paid Family Leave income.

“The United States is one of three countries in the world not to offer Paid Family Leave to families,” he noted. “Especially as a father of a young child, I know that my wife and I were able to get by and stay home for a time at the start of our son’s life and how crucial that was for his development. So many families don’t have that option because they have to return to work for financial reasons and their children will miss out on that crucial early development with the parents. Many states have adopted Paid Family Leave policy, so I’ve been working the past couple of years to get Paid Family Leave legislation here. My colleague, Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford), has filed a bill on Paid Family Leave.”

 

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DCR Unveils Final Design for Esplanade Riverfront Pavilion

By Beacon Hill Times Staff

By Dan Murphy

The Department of Conservation and Recreation and its development team unveiled the design for the proposed Esplanade Riverfront Pavilion at the third and final public meeting on the matter at the State Transportation Building Wednesday while proposing a unique, public-private partnership for underwriting the project.

Watertown-based architect Maryann Thompson said the first level of the two-story building would accommodate office space for Hill House and other partnering organizations while the second story would feature a “multi-purpose” space that could accommodate various sports, theatre and other programming.

An outdoor space on the building’s second floor, which Thompson described as a “giant New England-style porch,” would provide terraced landscaping that would allow for seating, and could accommodate shuffleboard and other activities, as well as offer unobstructed views of the Charles River.

Sitting atop the second level would be a “green-roof” that would also be occupiable, Thompson said.

DCR Commissioner Leo Roy said since the project presently has no funding, the state would issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking an entity or entities to enter into a 10-agreemnt to finance construction of the building and eventually operate it. The RFP is expected to go out for bidding next month, with responses due in February of next year. Afterwards, Roy anticipates at least a two-year construction process.

Roy expects the annual budget of operating the facility would be between $750,000 and $1 million, and that it would be made available for private, special events to help underwrite this cost.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone said, “The project has evolved tremendously. It’s great to see all the public comments and viewpoints come together, and I think it’s going to be great.”

Duane Lucca, a project stakeholder and representative for the West End Museum, said he hoped that the pavilion wouldn’t be “controlled by a small contingent of groups, but rather open to the wide community.”

Meanwhile, Thompson said the development team had conceived three concepts for repurposing the Upper Gates Lock House on the Esplanade, all of which would “keep the fabric of the building.”

One option involved a year-round “interpretive center”; a café with outdoor seating that would be open in the spring, summer and fall; and a space for Nordic ski-rentals during the winter months, she said.

Public comments on the pavilion are due on Friday, Nov. 17, and can be submitted online to http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/public-outreach/submit-public- comments/ or
in writing to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Office of Public Outreach, 251 Causeway St., sixth floor, Boston, MA 02114.

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Esplanade Association Names Michael Nichols Executive Director

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The Board of Directors for the non-profit Esplanade Association today announced the unanimous selection of Michael J. Nichols, of Boston, as the organization’s Executive Director. Nichols, an experienced public servant, attorney, and non-profit professional will begin at the Esplanade Association on November 29.

Nichols joins the Esplanade Association after three years at the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, serving the last 2.5 years as Chief of Staff. At the Greenway, Nichols was responsible for the Conservancy’s community and government affairs, external communications, and advancing strategic priorities. Under his leadership, the Conservancy negotiated a landmark public-private funding agreement, opened Boston’s first fully open-air beer garden, launched the organization’s signature young professional fundraising event, significantly grew earned revenue with innovative activities, and initiated numerous partnerships with other leading Boston institutions for in-park events.

“Michael has proven strategic leadership experience in communicating the value of a public/private partnership to care for – and activate – an urban public park,” said Alexi Conine, Chair of the Esplanade Association Board. “We were impressed with his passion, broad skillset, and record of success in mission-focused government and non-profit work. He will help fulfill the Association’s goal of making the Esplanade an innovative, sustainably-maintained recreational destination and cultural asset. We’re thrilled to have Michael join us.”

The Esplanade Association is the 100% privately funded friends group dedicated to stewardship and improvement of the Charles River Esplanade in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Since the organization’s founding in 2001, the Esplanade Association has raised over $14 million which has funded new Park amenities, restored Park assets and infrastructure, improved horticultural offerings, initiated new programs and public art, managed a robust volunteer program, and made key improvements to the three-mile stretch of waterfront park.

“The Charles River Esplanade is a jewel of Boston parks and I couldn’t be more excited about being named Executive Director of the Esplanade Association to continue the organization’s transformative work,” said Michael J. Nichols. “The Park already has a fantastic mix of signature events and regular activities in addition to its status as Boston’s most peaceful respite from city life. I look forward to working with the Association’s Board, the dedicated EA staff, our partners at DCR, and the Park’s many stakeholders to revitalize and enhance this signature public space.”

“The Esplanade Association plays a key role in supporting the ongoing maintenance, care, and improvement of the Charles River Esplanade,” offered State Representative Jay Livingstone. “I look forward to working with Michael Nichols to ensure the continued strength of this important public/private partnership.”

Nichols, who received both his bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Connecticut, began his career in public service as Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel to two state representatives in the Massachusetts Legislature, specializing in public finance and community development. He later served as Research & Policy Director to the full 13-member Boston City Council.

About the Esplanade Association (esplanadeassociation.org)

The Esplanade Association is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to revitalize and enhance the Charles River Esplanade, sustain the natural green space, and build community by providing educational, cultural, and recreational programs for everyone. Working in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Esplanade Association is dedicated to improving the experiences of the millions of visitors who enjoy Boston’s iconic riverside green space.

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