Church to become high-end condos

HYDE SQ.—The former Blessed Sacrament Church at 361 Centre St. likely will be turned into high-end condominiums priced up to $725,000, as co-owner the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) has accepted a buyout offer from its partner, New Atlantic Development.

“We are going to be negotiating an agreement with New Atlantic to sell them the church building and develop condominiums,” said JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal in a Gazette interview this week.

“Our goal is to make really high-quality units without any compromises,” New Atlantic President Peter Roth told the Gazette. He said construction could start as soon as this fall.

The Hyde Square Task Force and other local groups were urging the JPNDC to slow down in the hopes of creating a proposal for a multi-use community facility. But, Thal said, no more proposals will be accepted pending New Atlantic’s review of the project’s financial feasibility. That review should take two to three months, Thal said.

Roth said he spoke with some people about the community-use ideas, but saw nothing “concrete” or “feasible and realistic.” The renovation of the 85-year-old former Roman Catholic church will be enormously expensive, he said.

With slight alterations, Roth intends to carry out the original New Atlantic/JPNDC plan to construction 32 to 34 condo units within the church interior. He said he intends to create an atrium that preserves the 85-foot-high central space of the church under its massive dome for a “dramatic” entrance. The plan also retains a small community-use space in the front area of the church that will be slightly larger than originally planned.

Roth said the unit prices would range from $269,000 to $725,000, with most in the high $400,000 range.

No affordable units are required within the church, because affordable housing that New Atlantic and JPNDC built elsewhere on the church campus already covered that City requirement, Roth said.

But, Roth added, he has agreed with the JPNDC to lower some unit prices if the JPNDC can find funds to subsidize the cost.

The church campus in the heart of Hyde Square’s Latino community has been the focus of gentrification controversy for years. When the church closed in 2004, JPNDC and New Atlantic bought it specifically to ensure a large amount of affordable housing would be built on the site, which is now complete. The church was planned to be high-priced condos, partly due to construction expense and partly to subsidize the rest of the project.

A school expected to be a long-term tenant of the campus moved out in 2009, and the JPNDC quietly decided earlier this year to sell its building to developers who plan to turn it into luxury apartments. That move, which reportedly caused controversy on JPNDC’s own board of directors, caused the Task Force and others to question the need for more luxury housing on the site. The JPNDC is a nonprofit community development corporation focused on helping low- and moderate-income people.

Thal previously told the Gazette that JPNDC and New Atlantic already have spent a quarter-million dollars maintaining the vacant church, a situation that is pressing the JPNDC to sell.

Roth said he reduced the number of condo units from 37 in the original New Atlantic/JPNDC plan to avoid creating some awkwardly shaped rooms. He said the project’s original architect specializes in affordable housing, and “his orientation is more toward, I would say, quantity, not quality.”

The church is an official historic landmark and the original plan was approved by the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC). Due to New Atlantic’s changes in the plan, it needs a BLC “advisory review,” which is slated for a July 24 City Hall hearing. [See JP Agenda.]

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