Church plan seeks approvals

April 13, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

HYDE SQ.—With construction of the Blessed Sacrament Church site redevelopment possibly starting this fall, the developers are seeking the final zoning approvals for most of the project.

The city zoning Board of Appeal is expected to review the proposal May 1. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee deferred a vote until April 12, as the Gazette went to press, apparently intending to add minor provisos relating to the site’s central green space.

The former Catholic Church property at Centre and Creighton streets is being redeveloped by Church Square Community Partners, a team of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation and New Atlantic Development.

They plan to: turn the former church into housing and community space; move the rectory on the site and turn it into condos; build a new housing/retail building on the corner of Centre and Creighton; build a new condo building on Creighton; turn the former convent into single-room occupancy, or rooming house, units; allow the COMPASS School to remain in its building; and bring the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) into part of the Cheverus School building, the rest of which may become offices.

The developers still don’t have funding to renovate the church, according to project architect Nick Elton. But they are proceeding with the rest of the project.

At least one zoning variance and two conditional use permits are needed. That includes a variance for first-floor housing in the corner building, which is a neighborhood shopping district; a permit for the rooming house in a multi-family district; and a permit for the HSTF to operate as a “community center” in a multi-family district.

Elton said the city also declared the project as violating various setback codes that it actually does not. The developers were scheduled to meet with the Inspectional Services Department last week to attempt to rescind those violations.

When and if the church building is redeveloped, it may also need an unusual variance. The church is higher than current zoning height limits, so building new units inside it may violate those limits. But there has been no official opinion on that.

In any case, the Zoning Committee had few questions directly about the variance and conditional uses at its April 5 meeting. Much of the focus instead was on the roughly 1-acre green space in the center of the complex, and whether it will be welcoming and safe.

It appeared the Zoning Committee was poised to approve the zoning issues at this week’s meeting, with provisos related to the green space, including such items as adding chess or dominoes tables to a public plaza area.

The Blessed Sacrament project has been controversial among some abutters, who have threatened a lawsuit, though that hasn’t happened.

The rambling April 5 meeting ended without sufficient time for public comments to be heard, provoking complaints from many of the about 25 people in attendance. James Lesnick, a frequent critic of the project, objected that there should have been more community meetings about the zoning issues. Chair Kevin Leary said the Zoning Committee was following its normal process.

Cradling his infant daughter in one arm, state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez joked, “Maybe this thing will be built by the time she’s 15.” He added that he’s partly responsible for the more than two years of planning so far, because he raised many objections of his own early on. He said he’s now impressed with the project, especially its large number of affordable and market-rate home-ownership units.