A well-attended community meeting was held regarding the Chase Bank project at 701 Centre St. on January 30.
Three architects: Ed Forte, Gert Thorn, and Michael Epp found issues with the renovations that Chase Bank made to the storefront at 701 Centre St., formerly Bukhara restaurant. The building sits in a neighborhood design overlay district and therefore is subject to design review, resident and member of the Jamaica Pond Association Kevin Moloney said. However, these men and several other community members were dissatisfied with the work that was done to the building, saying it was inconsistent with the historical context of the rest of the district and that the community was not involved in the design process.
The three architects have met several times with the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), as well as Chase Bank several times to come to an agreement about what to do with the building. Chase has come up with a solution, and this meeting was an opportunity for the community to see the new proposal for the facade, as well as ask questions directly to the bank team.
“702 Centre St. is a beloved building in the community,” Epp said. “We were disturbed when this incredible building was treated in a way that was disrespectful. It’s about the process here; we don’t want this to happen to the next one.”
Ed Forte, who said he has done 134 storefronts with Main Streets and is familiar with historical facades in JP, said that 701 Centre St. is “one of the few remaining 19th century commercial buildings on Centre St.” He added that :”even very small alternations to a building in a design overlay district require a design review.”
The building next door, Carrot Flower, has the historically significant characteristics that 701 Centre should also have, Forte said, including the tall glass, the low sill, the vertical and elegant proportions of the entry door, the setback of the glass, and the detailing below the sill.
“There was no respect or understanding of the guidelines,” Gert Thorn said. “We wrestled with ISD, with the BPDA. We’re not here as agents for ourselves…We need to manage as a community what happens here.” Thorn proposed some sort of JP task force or committee that serves the JP neighborhood organizations and advises them on projects in these design overlay districts. “As a community we need to have a voice, and that voice needs to be heard,” Thorn said.
“In this experience, we want to highly praise the bank. They’ve been very supportive, both Rick [Dube] on a lower level and the bank on a higher level,” Thorn added. “In the end we want to make sure you agree with us.”
Rick Dube, Senior Venice President at JPMorganChase, said that “I assure you that as the person who oversees real estate in New England that was never our intent. This is not the way we wanted to enter Jamaica Plain. Clearly there were some missteps and perhaps ambiguity on the rules and regulations. As a representative of Chase, we want to come into the community to do the right thing.”
Architect Ken Mackenzie presented the new proposal to the community. “The direction that Chase is going is good neighbor; good for the building,” Mackenzie said. “We are not going to be duplicating or recreating history.”
The aluminum will be removed from the bottom of the building and insulated glazing will be inserted into a “high quality, wood/glass” system with all wood windows. He said that the detail for below the sill will be fabricated in a shop. “We’re going to use modern, current technology to replicate history, not to repeat history,” Mackenzie said. Additionally, the storefront will be painted dark green to match Carrot Flower.
There will be black awnings with the chase logo on them, and a blade sign that will not be illuminated.
There was concern from a resident about vinyl on the glass, but Mackenzie said there will not be any vinyl lettering on the big widows.
Another resident asked Chase Bank if they will publish an apology. “We sat to erase the board and re-establish ourselves,” Dube said. “You will probably see something.”
Resident Omer Hecht was not as enthusiastic as some about this project. “You do not represent me or the community at-large,” he told the architects. “You are not elected officials and you do not represent the community.”
Hecht said that the “none” of the community organizations who were listed as being in support of this redesign “represent JP,” and he “does not feel the majority of the community is represented in this room.”
“Shame on all of you, shame on these groups for espousing such passion for windows and grout lines…” he continued, citing that there are more important things to worry about. “All of you are very passionate about what a window looks like and what a sign looks like.”
Michael Epp agreed with Hecht in saying that they are not elected officials, but “we asked for this meeting to happen so there is community participation. The whole notion is to have a community decision that also about our future and what the community wants that to be.”
He also said that things like education and affordable housing are efforts that should absolutely be supported, in response to Hecht’s comments.
Rick Dube said that the next steps are to go back to the city to get these plans approved, which he said “will happen fairly quickly,” then he will get the funding and the materials. He said the actual construction timeline will run anywhere from eight to ten weeks from when they start doing the work. He said that they hope to be done by April, but the project probably won’t be fully complete until May. He said “the sense of urgency is going to be big.”