JPNDC takes heat for church plan changes

HYDE SQ.—The unexpected addition of luxury housing to community-supported development plans for the Blessed Sacrament campus in Hyde Square have roused the ire of some Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) supporters.

“The basic frustration is that the community got left out,” said Richard Heath, who was highly involved with the development of the original 2006 plan for the campus. “Those, like me, who went to rallies and meetings and signed petitions and wrote letters of support [are feeling] a sense of betrayal. So the NDC has a lot of fence-mending to do.”

JPNDC Communications Director Sally Swenson told the Gazette that the JPNDC is planning a community meeting for September to talk about the “challenging financial facts” that led to the decision.

“We do understand that there is some pain in the community,” Swenson said. “We have a full agenda of other affordable housing we want to create elsewhere in JP,” she added.

A petition to slow or stop the proposed developments is circulating, and the Neighbors for Blessed Sacrament group continues its attempt to gain support for an alternative, community-use proposal for the former church building at 361 Centre St.

Loft-style, market-rate apartments are being planned for the vacant Norbert School building at 26 Sunnyside St., a change from a plan created in 2006 and widely supported by the community. That is in addition to the planned 32 to 34 luxury units slated for the large church building on Centre Street.

The Norbert building is under agreement to be sold from the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) to a market-rate developer, GLC Development Resources. That move has sparked community discussion over the need for two buildings on the campus to be developed into market-rate housing.

“It’s six years later. JP has changed a lot,” said JP resident Ken Tangvik, who is circulating the petition. “There are plans for many luxury housing units nearby. The community needs to revisit the plans for both the Norbert and the church.”

Tangvik works at the Hyde Square Task Force, a longtime JPNDC ally that is partly housed on the campus. Last month, speaking on the Task Force’s behalf, Tangvik said the group was concerned about luxury housing and preferred a community use. But he said he currently is speaking only for himself. Task Force Executive Director Claudio Martinez did not return a Gazette phone call.

The former Catholic church and its campus were purchased by JPNDC and its partner, New Atlantic Development Corporation, in 2005. Following an extensive community process, a redevelopment plan for the campus was created in 2006, which would have created market-rate housing in the church, affordable housing in four other buildings, and school and nonprofit space in two buildings, the Cheverus and Norbert school buildings.

Since the announcement of the planned luxury lofts for the Norbert building, however, members of the community have questioned the need for even more market-rate housing, bringing up gentrification concerns and loss of trust in the JPNDC.

“The wholesale gentrification of Jackson Square to South Huntington has only just begun. And the credibility of one of the few community-based groups that could help this is blown up,” Heath said.

“They did this without any community input, without any public meetings,” Tangvik told the Gazette. “The developers just seem like they want to make a bunch of money.”

Swenson said JPNDC will hold a community meeting in  September to discuss the Blessed Sacrament situation.

The Norbert School building was home to the COMPASS School until 2009. The 15,000-square-foot, two-and-a-half-story building was shown to over 30 parties, including several schools, Swenson told the Gazette, but the offer from GLC was the “first concrete offer” the NDC received.

“Nothing worked for any of the folks we showed it to,” she said.

Regular maintenance costs for the church and Norbert buildings “were really hurting us,” Swenson added.

A small group called Neighbors for Blessed Sacrament, led by Mozart Street resident Jason Hutchinson, held a community meeting last week to whip up support for a grassroots proposal that would include a café, a children’s playspace business, a gallery, church services and more, Heath told the Gazette.

“I wish the NDC had a more creative approach to the building that would not require any condos,” said Hutchinson. I believe the will and resources exist in JP to make this happen but it would need some time to come together. The NDC does not seem to have that time due to their financial situation.”

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council planned to discuss the development at its July 31 meeting, after the Gazette’s deadline. The developers were expected to attend.

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