Citizen complaint of the day: You let one in, pretty soon the whole neighborhood's full of them

In-window air conditioner

A concerned citizen looks up on Appleton Street in the South End and complains about the in-window AC he now can't not see:

This is not to code and required action or it will spread. Second on same block.

Appleton Street? Appleton Street? Oh, yeah, the hunting grounds of the South End font kvetcher.



Free tagging: 


    Binding regulatoins imposed by whom?

    People get really confused here.

    There are historic districts. Any change to the exterior of a building in a historic district must be reviewed and approved by the appropriate governmental entity, for example, the Back Bay Architectural Commission, the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission, etc. These are duly constituted government agencies.

    There are also, in many historic neighborhoods, various neighborhood associations. These are private nonprofits, with no authority to compel anyone to do anything or to prohibit anyone from doing anything. For example, the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, the Beacon Hill Civic Association, etc.

    These neighborhood organizations often provide testimony to government agencies, and/or letters of opposition or support for various development projects. Their testimony and letters is legally no different from anyone else's: you, or I, or the West End Association of Professional Taxidermists, are equally entitled to submit testimony and letters.

    From the perspective of practical politics, those neighborhood organizations that have a reputation for being inclusive, for being broadly representative of the neighborhood, and for being run by sane adults, tend to have a lot of sway. But that sway is only in the form of political influence, not regulatory power.

    Separately still, if I sell you my house, pretty much anything you and I agree to, we can put in the deed, for example, a restriction on changing the exterior. Once again, that's not anybody else imposing a restriction on you unilaterally, it's a private contract between private parties.

    Well, the South End Landmark

    Well, the South End Landmark District Standards and Criteria, , does say:
    5. AIR CONDITIONERS: Portable, seasonal window air conditioners are exempt from review

    But they don't define what the season is, or explicitly say that it's a violation if you don't bother to take in an A/C one winter, just that this type of A/C is exempt from a review.


    April through October.

    April through October.

    Although, I know for a fact that the city isn't going to enforce that rule, especially when it's known that some people have health issues which require filtered air. Also, people need to find other things to complain about.




    okay I'll make fun of this because I actually know the Neighborhood Association really dislikes this alot. So much so they will put the pressure on landlords who don't get their tenants to remove A/C's after Oct 1 (or something like that).

    (I just found it asinine that a NA could force people to do something clearly on 'ascetics")


    It's the same in the Back Bay

    It's the same in the Back Bay. By a certain date you're supposed to remove your street-facing window a/c units. If you want to live in an expensive historical neighborhood in a beautiful old building on a lovely brick sidewalk street, then you have to put up with the BS. Many are more than willing to put up with the extra rules which is why rents are high and demand is high.


    It's not zero sum

    Consider the possibility that an organization as large and complex as a city government can attend to more than one thing at once. Or do you think the people who fill potholes, who change lightbulbs in street lights, who order new blackboard chalk for the schools, and who enforce zoning regulations, all ought to drop whatever it is they're doing and work on the problem of gang violence?


    "Out of touch?"

    I disagree with you about that characterization. One reason that Boston, unlike so many other American cities, has a vibrant residential downtown, is that concerned citizens got together and fought for historical preservation and for policies that favored residential life over misguided "modernization." Starting in the 1920s, those you deride as "busybodies" and "out of touch nimby ninnies" gave up time they could have spent earning money, or playing with their children, or drinking beer with their friends, in order to influence the direction of Boston's future. Judging by the real estate market, which reflects the desirability of living downtown, they were wildly successful. Yeah, it's a pain to have to get approval to change your windows, but the net effect is pretty damn good.



    Adam is the owner of universalhub. Adam posted the complaint about the South End a/c. If you have a problem with him mentioning it, then I suggest you take it up with him. We all realize there are more important issues in the city of Boston than an a/c window unit in the South End. Are you honestly that dense? Grow up.


    I enjoy many of your smart-ass quips

    You seem like a generally good-humoresque type but yeah--the old "a kid got shot and you people are worried about your space savers and bike lanes??" outrage doesn't really make sense. I mean yes--the Central African Republic is crumbling and all of the water on West Virginia is poisoned and people are dropping dead right and left from bad heroin but yeah--I'm still wondering what to cook for dinner and grousing about the bus being late. Human nature.


    You don't like it?

    Don't live there. The rules have been there for years - a lot longer than almost anyone has lived there.

    When I first moved into the Back Bay and we renovated, they made me buy windows with mullions that cost me $100 a window extra (no fakeys allowed either and this was on windows that faced the alley). I kvetched but obeyed and I'm happy I did.

    After 20 years in the neighborhood I get why they have the rules. If you live in a historic district, it comes with rules and they pay off over time both aesthetically and financially and there is no secret about the rules when you move in (although I've seen a few people get the rules stretched and a few rules or decisions that weren't particularly reasonable - you have to take the good with the bad - it evens out over time collectively).

    Don't like them - move to Southie. In the winter you can remove your window AC and use it as a space saver.


    This is why I no longer live there..

    This is nothing more than 'check your rights' in at the exclusive neighborhood door. Historic District or not.

    Sorry I don't believe that a non-government neighborhood association should tell and force private homeowners what to do with their property. BRA fine, a NA not so much.

    Fine, make suggestions. But to force people to buy more expensive windows or pick a certain color for their home is stupid and big brother-ish. Sure its what it makes it nice looking and historic.

    Then again this is why I no longer live in Ellis block. i got tired of the NA telling me what I could and could not do with my property.


    Read Sevil's comment above...

    "When I first moved into the Back Bay and we renovated, they made me buy windows with mullions that cost me $100 a window extra (no fakeys allowed either and this was on windows that faced the alley). I kvetched but obeyed and I'm happy I did."


    It wasn't just that, in my own experience too. The NA has a strong arm at the city. As do many. Yeah they may not force it themselves, but can get the city to force it for them. Which is no better.

    As you point out in your post above

    The Back Bay Architectural Commission - NOT the Neighborhood Assn.

    I believe the commission has one paid city employee on it (currently William Young) and a few volunteers - I think usually/mostly architects. They are often recommended by the Neighborhood Association -but the city (I think the mayor's office) ultimately decides who sits on these commissions.

    As you point out - the neighborhood association has input - but no power. I sit on the NABB Board and I have seen the process in action. It's not perfect - but it's pretty damned good both at the neighborhood association level and at the city level.

    There are those like me who tend to be more progressive/permissive - and there are those who oppose everything. It may seem arbitrary from the outside looking in, but I can assure you that there is a very fair and structured process and policies are based on decades of experience. I frequently find myself in favor of something until I hear the reason for why something might be prohibited, usually from someone who's been around the block a few more times than I have.


    No "righs checking" going on here

    This is nothing more than 'check your rights' in at the exclusive neighborhood door.

    These districts are established through the democratic process and/or by deed restrictions. You can't "check your rights at the door" if they don't exist in the first place. Anyone moving into or buying property in an historic district does so eyes wide open, either through the district's establishing legislation which is a matter of public record and/or via a deed restriction on a property's title, which also is a matter of public record.


    Agree in principle.

    In this case, it's kind of a balancing act between the rights of various individuals.

    I own my property, but zoning laws prohibit me from building a garbage recycling facility, a nightclub, or a 15-story office tower on it. Some might call that a restriction on my rights. I don't: the same zoning laws prevent my neighbor from destroying the value of my property by building a garbage recycling facility next door. Different zoning areas have different restrictions. Buying into an area with historic preservation restrictions, I get the benefits of all those restrictions (attractive 19th century streetscape; high property values) but I also must abide by them. Establishing a historic district requires the support of the people who live in the district, not just the voters in the city of state, so this isn't a case of 51% taking from the 49%.

    These districts are

    These districts are established through the democratic process and/or by deed restrictions. You can't "check your rights at the door" if they don't exist in the first place.

    Funny. That's exactly what the people who wanted to keep Jews and blacks out of their neighborhoods said.

    Right, but

    as a matter of national policy, we have decided that discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion is not something we will allow. We have not decided that "people who want to do things with their property that the zoning laws don't allow" are a class worth protecting.

    I get it

    I started this subthread with the "pestilence is spreading" bit but I want to be clear that I was joking around. I was having a go mostly at the tone of the citizen complaint. I get the concept of a historic district having standards and I support it, as much as they can be a pain in the ass.

    There is no SENA,

    by which I assume you mean South End Neighborhood Association. There are 15 small NAs in the South End. This particular home is in the Ellis NA, which includes snobby high-end residences like the hideous Atelier building at 505 Tremont.



    so there's bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy on top of even more bureaucracy?

    sheesh can't they have ONE group for the entire neighborhood? And ALL of these have some sort of play in what goes on?

    Talk about red tape, and people wonder why businesses and property owners loathe dealing with these people because there's too many hands in the pot, so to speak.


    Having more groups doesn't mean more layers of bureaucracy. It means a smaller geographical footprint for each neighborhood group. Many of these groups have been around for decades and formed long before many other neighborhoods had neighborhood associations.


    Having been active in a few neighborhood associations,

    I'm glad they are there. ZBA, for instance, encourages business owners and homeowners to get the endorsement of their local NA before they seek zoning approval for new roof deck, rezoning of the building from residential to commercial (or vice versa), approval for a liquor license or patio, permission for later operating hours, etc. You basically are strongly encouraged to present your plans to those of your neighbors who are interested enough in what's going on in the neighborhood to attend one monthly meeting. The NA then votes on a letter "not to oppose" or "to oppose", which becomes one piece of the puzzle that ZBA considers before making its decision. It's a sensible safety check to ensure that current residents' concerns get heard before changes get made.

    For example, I didn't ever squawk about the popular bar on my block with the loud customers that spill out at 2am; it was there when I moved in, part of the scenery. But I did stand up and say, "I'd rather you didn't" when they tried to expand their capacity from 70 to 200 by adding an upper floor; that's a lot more 2am noisy drunks than I signed up for. I'd be unhappy if someone built a tall, enclosed roof deck that suddenly took away 80% of my view; that's something that would hurt my property value. The NA's don't always get their way, but at least they get some input.

    No, we don't.

    They are private entities, and so they are not subject to open meeting laws. What we need is applicants for zoning relief, when asked, "Did you get the approval of your neighborhood association?" to answer, "No, I didn't deal with them because they don't operate transparently and have no legitimacy. Instead, here's how I solicited and obtained the approval of my neighbors...."

    Where are the code complaints

    Where are the code complaints about the hundred or more gas barbecues on wooden decks and roofs that can be seen throughout the South End during the warm weather months. Walk down any alley in the summer and you'll see them everywhere. It must be okay if it meets the complainer's visual standards.



    you do realize that Back Bay was one of, if not the first, "planned" communities in the country. There's a reason the architecture is so similar - they had very specific zoning requirements about what they could put in there. The area went away from that for the first 50-75% of the 20th century and was in decay before a group of concerned citizens stepped in and said - hey they had it right the first time - let's put it back to the extent possible - the way it was. In the meantime, we struggle to maintain relevance - how do you incorporate cars, street parking, street signage/lighting/signaling, handicap access, electricity, telephones, internet connections, modern elevators, satellite dishes, the desire for roof-decks, the value of building an interior garage and all kinds of other things that weren't around in 1875 while still preserving the beauty and the heritage? It's not easy and you can't make everyone happy - but there's a reason it still works and property values continue to escalate and people like me who've lived there for 20 years have no desire to move as long as we can afford to stay.

    Au contrair my dear anon. They wouldn't be laughing. I think they'd be shaking our hands about how we've managed to evolve while preserving the spectacular architecture they originally created.


    Window AC

    The South End Historic District has nothing to do with windows, what you put in them or the color that you paint your house. I suggest you move back to where ever you came from or get a life. I have lived here for 65 years and if I wanted to paint my house purple there is nothing anyone can do about, except Sue Parks, of course.

    Landmark District Commission can tell you what to do

    The South End Landmark District Commission has broad authority to approve or deny approval for any change to an exterior of the building that is visible from the street: When my building needed to replace aging street-facing windows, we had to use expensive wood-framed ones with a specific kind of muntin to get their approval. Their stick is the ability to levy heavy fines on developers and owners that try to skirt their very detailed specifications on rehabbing of old buildings. Their authority only applies within a specific Landmark District and adjacent Protection Area, but that covers almost the entire South End. You can paint your place purple, but they will take it out of your hide until you repaint it to a more historically appropriate color.


    do you research before you commit

    Perhaps those who are about to live in historical districts should do their research before they fork over the enormous amounts of money that it costs to buy or rent in these neighborhoods. If you're opposed to the restrictions then buy or rent elsewhere. If I were about to spend over $2,000/month to live in a tiny space, I'd spend at least a few hours reading and exploring the terms of the lease. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out!