Religious hall torn down, set to rise again

October 23, 2009
By

John Ruch

CENTRAL JP—The Jehovah’s Witnesses house of worship on Chestnut Avenue was demolished early this month to make way for a new version, fulfilling plans originally permitted by city inspectors more than three years ago.

The new Kingdom Hall, as Jehovah’s Witnesses houses of worship are known, at 236 Chestnut Ave. will include a worship center and dwelling units for ministers, according to an information sign posted at the construction site. It is slated for completion next spring.

The sudden demolition on the 1-acre site, which apparently required no community process, raised some concerns from neighbors. Some of those issues, such as weekend construction work, have been addressed, according to Colleen Keller, the Jamaica Plain Coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.

“They’re being responsive,” Keller said of the Jamaica Plain English Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, adding that she is still talking with neighbors.

The congregation, whose office phone number is listed on the construction site as a contact, did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

The congregation has received at least three permits to demolish the 1975 Kingdom Hall and its surrounding fenced-in parking lot since 2006, according to the records of the city’s Inspectional Services Department. It is unclear why the demolition did not happen the first two times.

The new construction appears to be the same as a plan filed with the city in 2007. That called for a two-story building of about 7,700 square feet that would include the worship center, two residential units for “on-site staff” and partial basement with utility spaces. The maximum roof height would be around 40 feet.

The parking lot on the site has been torn up as well. The 2007 plans appear to say the paved area would increase by 1,200 square feet.

Those plans also promised a fix for an issue with the parking lot: storm water drainage running off a hill on the back of the lot and into Lamartine Street yards.

According to the construction site sign, the work is being performed by “volunteer workers from Southeastern Massachusetts.” It is unclear what that means. City permits show that professional companies performed the demolition work, which included removing asbestos from the old Kingdom Hall in July and August.

It appears that the project requires no zoning variance and no community meetings. The project underwent design review in 2007 by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) because it falls under the Glenvale Park neighborhood overlay district on the zoning map. The project’s design was approved, and the congregation has not been back with any changes, according to BRA spokesperson Jessica Shumaker.

The BRA design review includes a notification to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council for any comment. It is unclear whether that happened or whether the council had any thoughts.

In any case, the recent demolition was a surprise to neighbors of the Kingdom Hall, which sits on a residential street. One resident told the Gazette that the concerns included the weekend work, the removal of trees and the treatment by construction workers of some raccoons that were on the site.

The site also did not have a sign describing the project and giving a contact number, which is required under city ordinances, until about a week after work began.

Keller said the congregation has agreed to several fixes, including hosing down the dirt on the site so it does not blow onto neighboring property. She said she is getting copies of the plans to show to neighbors, adding that it is too soon to say whether a full-blown community meeting would be needed.

Sandra Storey contributed to this article.

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