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Raising Roofs in Boston

Raising Roofs in Boston

Boston is an up-and-coming city with a steady economy and job opportunities. As with any growing city, the expanding population brings opportunities and challenges for developers and city officials. An increasing trend in the city's new high-rise structures is rooftop decks. The more amenities a rooftop area has for prospective residents, the better. This is quite a departure from past housing trends in Boston, when incoming residents rarely found a place with such amenities. Until recently, tenants moving into a place with a roof deck found bare-bones basics with old staircases leading up to an open rooftop barren of creature comforts and amenities.

Change is coming quickly, however, as the growing population demands more of its living spaces. Developers throughout the city are racing to build complexes with the best of the best in terms of rooftop luxuries. It is not uncommon in some areas to find residential structures with roof decks covering 2,000 to 3,000 SF. These premier decks include high-end features like outdoor flat-screen televisions, commercial-grade grills, music and speaker systems, heat lamps, and lounge areas.

As developers work to meet the increasing demand for this feature, Boston officials and city departments are working to ensure compliance with safety regulations and zoning laws. According to the Inspectional Services Department, the city now has over 2,500 approved decks. That number is increasing virtually every day. Decks, once a rare item, now appear on residential towers, condominiums, hotels, office buildings, and even single-family and multi-family homes. The Department estimates that many more buildings have decks built without the requisite permitting. In some instances, city building officials are seeing structures with multiple rooftop decks, particularly in luxury residential buildings and high-rise structures. In this unique layout, buildings have one deck above the top floor and a second deck about halfway up on the lower floors. It is not unusual to see a multi-story office building or a mixed use building with rooftop outdoor spaces.

With the increase in luxury features comes a hefty price tag for both tenants and developers. For developers, new rooftop decks are quite expensive to build. Packed with luxury features, it might cost a developer as much, if not more, to build a feature-laden outdoor deck as it does to construct a condominium complex or parking lots in the Back Bay area. The cost of construction, which includes fees for architects, structural engineers, electrical work, interior and exterior designers, landscape architects, and utilities such as water, electricity, and internet, can cost up to $250,000. Tenants ultimately acquire the cost of rooftop decks in their rent and purchase prices, which can be quite steep.

While the new demand for rooftop outdoor space brings potential for developers, it is drawing some concern from organizations throughout the city. The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, for instance, notes that people are requesting rooftop gardening spaces in their new living areas. Developers, at an added cost, are installing gardening plots and raised beds to meet consumer demand. Although many people like the idea of having a vegetable garden, exotic trees, or fragrant flowers, the Association says, they do not always know how to care for their flora. That is creating a green epidemic throughout the city, as the skyline now contains a large number of dead and decaying plants and trees.