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South End roof-deck battle lands in court

The owner of a South End condo and roof patio yesterday sued the Zoning Board of Appeal to block construction of a pair of decks - one with a grill and fire pit - atop the building next door.

In his suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Douglas Rudisch, who lives on the seventh floor of 1166 Washington St., asks a judge to "annul" the board's unanimous decision on March 28 to allow two decks at the neighboring Columbian Building at 1154-1160 Washington St.: An 887-square-foot deck available to residents of all eight units, with room for up to 49 people at a time, and a smaller, private 155-square-foot deck.

Rudisch says the larger deck would become a noisy nuisance at eye level of his unit and small patio. He says the larger deck, which will also have chairs and tables, will intrude on his privacy - his patio and living room are within eyesight of the deck area - and reduce the value of his unit. Also:

Use of the proposed communal roof decks at the Property for parties and functions will result in noise levels, including from amplification of music, that violate the Regulations for the Control of Noise in the City of Boston and will interfere with Rudisch's ability to use and enjoy his property.

Use of fire pits and gas grills on the roof of the property will introduce open flame on the roof and increase the risk of fire to Rudisch's property.

Legally, Rudisch argues, the board exceeded its authority. Roof decks in general are a "conditional" use in the South End - which means they can be approved with a simple once-over by the board. But Rudisch's attorney argues the board loses the right to grant a simple "conditional" approval if the building already exceeds the maximum allowed height along Washington Street of 70 feet, which he says the Columbian Building does, by some eight feet, and that the board failed to make the case the decks should get a variance from that.

The board granted a variance after the building's zoning attorney argued that an existing parapet would shield the decks from view from the street and from the nearby Peters Park, that they would be behind existing mechanical equipment between them and Rudisch's condo, and that the building went up in 1892, long before current zoning came into effect.

The board did not consider the gas-fired fire pit and grill, because those are subject to a separate review process by Inspectional Services and the Boston Fire Department; the building's attorney said "there are many, many, many roof decks that have such devices."

Complete complaint (4.2M PDF).



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That the plaintiff's building was still an abandoned gas station.

Voting closed 27

But a communal roof deck? That would be in constant use. And fire? no thank you. One of my neighbors rehabbed a triple on Neponset Ave. They added a big roof deck. On the 4th of July, they had lit tiki torches tied to all four corners, i kid you not.

Voting closed 32

I have submitted several 311 requests and eventually had BFD come out to address gas (tank) grills on my neighbor's roof decks. One was at a place that had a huge fire 4 years previously smh

At one BFD visit, I had just received a post card of a condo for sale in my neighborhood the day before his scheduled visit, that proudly boasted a gas (tank) grill on the post card. When I showed it to him, he wouldn't address it with me submitting a new report, doh!

The other wrinkle is that he expected me to know who the owner of the grills were in the these multi family units.... I was like, "dude, you need to put on your own sleuthing hat for that."

Voting closed 31

[T]he maximum allowed height along Washington Street of 70 feet.

Based on that statement, the complainant's own unit very likely required a variance. If so, he can stuff it.

Voting closed 37

any financial hardship here. Only financial greed.

Voting closed 17

Plan of the seventh floor condos, for reference: https://imgur.com/a/3uvebWn

The plaintiff's unit must be one of the ones with a curved wall of windows that would face the new roof deck. A 49-person capacity roof deck does seem a bit excessive but then again, anytime you have windows facing a side lot line in the city you always have to expect that someday new construction might block your view. Maybe they could put up some screening?

Voting closed 15

Didn't catch this meeting (not interested) but past membership of the ZBA would always point out the prohibition of a rooftop grill or similar. This allows a developer to correct their plans and have smooth sailing.

Not only are grills prohibited from rooftops or porches, a rooftop deck as a gathering place has also been seriously depreciated due to past accidents and issues of egress in an emergency.

Stepping back because that is not their job? Wow. Not only will ISD disallow that but BFD will as well.

Voting closed 19

…. were not allowed on Boston roof decks and balconies and all others on the ground had to be a certain distance from any buildings. Maybe I’m wrong about gas grills but how could gas be any less dangerous than charcoal or wood?

Voting closed 18

There's a few restrictions (quick disconnect hose, etc) but that's one way to have "fire" and still be OK with the city.

Voting closed 29

Still sounds risky.

Voting closed 20

It isn't the fire directly. After all, most Boston units have a gas stove which isn't far from something combustable.

The big problem with deck grills is that people leave them unattended so they don't notice when something goes wrong until it's too late.

Voting closed 26