Cohousing group looking to buy church

January 8, 2010
By

David Taber

HYDE SQ.—Stony Brook Cohousing plans to redevelop the Blessed Sacrament Church, the last project planned in the redevelopment of the former church campus, it was announced this week.

The local cohousing group, along with Roslindale-based Rees-Larkin Development, signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development in late December. The potential buyers plan to spend the next few months figuring out whether the church will make a suitable site for its semi-communal dream home, Stony Brook Cohousing spokesperson Cora Roelofs told the Gazette.

If it all comes together, Stony Brook would be the second cohousing development in the neighborhood, joining JP Cohousing in the Brookside neighborhood.

The church would be redesigned and restyled as condominiums, she said, but with ample community space, potentially including a kitchen and dining area, a playroom for children and guest rooms, as well as other common areas.

Formed in 2006—as a result of a Gazette article about the JP Cohousing project—Stony Brook Cohousing currently has three equity members and eight associate members, Roelofs said. The equity members have invested $3,750 each, a sum that reserves them a unit if the project moves forward, and that will be put toward their down payment if it is completed, she said.

Associate members have invested $150 and do not have reserved units, but can participate in the planning meetings and workshops the group holds.

Roelofs said the group would likely need to have equity partners for 75 percent of the planned 30-35 units before they apply for construction loans.

To that end, the group is undertaking a recruitment push. Getting in early means that future owners can participate in the design process for the development, including some of the specifications for their own units, Roelofs said. And “purchasing credits will be available for crazy early investors.”

Aside from four affordable units, the development will be market rate, she said.

Jon Rudzinski of Rees-Larkin said it is still early for the project. The next steps, in addition to determining if there is sufficient interest, are to develop a cost estimate for construction and see what financing is available.

“The idea is an intentional community,” JP resident Roelofs said, “with community starting at our doorsteps, not in our own private spaces.”

Prior to zeroing in on the church building, the cohousing group was exploring the possibility of zero-net energy, or “passive house” construction. But that construction model—highly insulating buildings and relying on solar energy and human body heat to keep them warm—is more suitable for new construction, Roelofs said. The cohousing group is still committed to environmentally friendly construction, she said.

When the Archdiocese of Boston sold the church site to JPNDC and New Atlantic in 2005, it required the church building be redeveloped as housing. At the time, the developers described that requirement as one of the biggest challenges in redeveloping the site.

The church building was proposed as the only market-rate development project on the site. The other projects include Creighton Commons, a recently completed 16-unit affordable home-ownership development on Creighton Street; a 36-unit rental cooperative with ground-floor retail on Centre Street; and a 28-unit single room occupancy development for formerly homeless individuals.

JPNDC and New Atlantic never put forward a funding plan for the church building, and JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal told the Gazette he is enthusiastic about Stony Brook Cohousing’s efforts. Cohousing is a “very community-spirited model. If they can make it happen it would be great,” he said.

If Stony Brook pulls it off, the group will join JPNDC and the other residents and owners at the Blessed Sacrament site, as well as the Hyde Square Task Force, which owns and runs programming out of the Cheverus Building on the site, in a “master condominium” group. “Each element will be part of the overall governance structure of the campus,” Thal said.

One other building on the Blessed Sacrament campus, the Norbert School building, remains vacant.

Stony Brook Cohousing will host an open house and potluck Sunday, Jan. 24 at 5:00 p.m. For more information, contact info@stonybrookcohousing.org or see www.stonybrookcohousing.org.