Judy and Steve Pagliuca hit .500 before the Back Bay Architectural Commission Wednesday night: The board gave them permission to add an addition that would house a two-car garage and a deck in the rear of their house at 362 Marlborough St., but rejected a similar request for a smaller house they also own at 352 Marlborough.
The City Hall hearings on the two proposals turned into a contentious debate on the future of a historic neighborhood where even exterior changes visible only from its numerous service alleys - and the removal of trees - require commission approval.
In a 6-3 vote, the commission gave the couple - yes, he's the Bain Capital/Boston Celtics/Boston 2024 Steve Pagliuca - permission to nestle the garage next to a small extension, or "ell" in the rear of 362 Marlborough and put a deck atop it. The deck will be screened with shrubs so nobody walking by might be offended by the sight of deck furniture, should they somehow be able to see over a brick privacy wall along Hereford Street or look into the property from the alley behind their house.
And the couple - Judy Pagliuca attended the hearings, her husband did not - can tear down a tree in the rear of their property to make way for a city-mandated water "recharge" system to pump rainwater back into the ground and excavate a sloping ramp from the alley down to the garage. The Pagliucas will plant a new tree to replace the old one and an additional one in the front.
Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Connor said she found the garage and deck "extremely respectful" of the existing building. Although the couple would cut into the facade of the ell to build the garage, the commission decided that was OK in part because the ell was built as an addition - in 1912 - and so is not as historically important as the rest of the building.
But opponents said the commission, to which Mayor Walsh recently appointed several new members, is setting a dangerous precedent that will let lots of residents get permission to carve out their own garages and tear down trees in what they said would mean a blow to the neighborhood's historic nature - the suburbanization of this most urbane of urban neighborhoods.
Sherry Robinson of Hereford Street objected to the shrubs around the deck. "I don't really want to look at a hedge row," because that's something you only find in suburbs. What she wants, she said, a tree.
"This is a suburban makeover," with the garage door becoming "the main feature of this house on a public way," Shirley Kressel of Hereford Street said.
Both the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay and the Garden Club of the Back Bay opposed the Pagliuca request, questioning both the change to the building and the need to remove the tree.
Jackie Blombach, co-president of the garden club, wondered, if Boston is such a walkable city, "why, then, are we building more garages?"
A NABB member said that in 64 decisions going back 30 years, the commission had never approved a new garage.
Peter Der Manuelian, who lives on Marlboro Street, and who prefaced his remarks by saying he teaches at Harvard, said a commission vote for the Pagliucas would start "an unprecedented and radical transformation" of the neighborhood as less historically respectful residents rushed to add on walk-out decks and the like, and leaving the neighborhood subject to "the whims of money, of political influence and power."
For decades, he told commission members, "It's been your job to say no, and the neighborhood has been for the better."
The proposal had its supporters.
Ian Reynolds of Marlborough Street said that while he loves the historic nature of the Back Bay, he also appreciates people willing to invest in their homes. "The garage doesn't stick out," he said.
Laura Martin of Commonwealth Avenue, who announced she is a Millennial, said she sees nothing wrong with a homeowner wanted to protect their cars and other belongings in a garage, both from the elements and from car thieves and burglars.
Joe Pagliuca - Steve and Judy's son - said it's now "a complete hassle" for him to deal with getting his car out of an alley, after avoiding all the glass, just to bring his two-year-old daughter up to Ipswich for a day at the beach.
Judy Pagliuca, accompanied by a zoning lawyer, architects, an arborist and a project manager, did not sit silently. She said she wants to beautify the alley, that she loves trees, too, and that the garage "is not a suburban garage, a big thing hanging off the house." She said she be happy to work with the garden club on determining the best trees to plant at the two houses.
And maybe, she said, it's time for the Back Bay Architectural Commission to add a new goal to its charter: Increasing "social cohesion" by maybe giving homeowners an easier way to add units that would let more people live in the Back Bay, rather than just the extremely well off. However, neither of her proposals called for affordable housing.
The board rejected the Pagliuca proposal for 352 Marlborough Street because, unlike at 362, creating the garage would involve cutting through the building's original facade.
362 Marlborough proposal, showing sloping ramp from alley to garage topped by shrub-lined deck: