BLC Discusses Study Report; Advisory Review for Blessed Sacrament Church

The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) discussed the Blessed Sacrament Church in two different capacities on August 9: first, a public hearing and comment period was held for the study report to designate the church as a landmark; and second, an advisory review for the proposed conversion to housing and programming space for the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF).

Public Hearing and Comment on Study Report

Following a summary from BLC staff member Jennifer Gaugler stating that staff believes the Blessed Sacrament church complex is significant for several reasons that are outlined in the study report, the BLC took testimony from the community. The full draft study report can be found at boston.gov/landmarks.

The Blessed Sacrament Church is currently owned by the HSTF, which is working with developer Pennrose on a conversion project.

Celina Miranda, Executive Director of the HSTF, said that the group has “submitted a joint written report with Pennrose. It is my hope that we can work together to make sure that Pennrose is able to realize the proposed project.”

Miranda stated that the building has been in “disrepair” since the late 1980s and early 1990s and “continues to deteriorate on a daily basis.” She said that she is “worried that this designation will not allow the necessary repairs to take place.”

Several members of the community spoke in support of designating the church as a landmark, including Curtis Glavin, who owns a condominium on the corner of the church campus. He said that he has some concerns about the building at 21 Creighton St., which is wood and does not have the same masonry facade as the church and other buildings. He said he does support the designation, but also discussed some other factual changes he believes should be made to the study report.

Pat Feeley, a resident who spoke on behalf of the Friends of Blessed Sacrament, said that the group is “in support of programming and cultural spaces for youth and families, which HSTF has a long history of doing very efficiently in this neighborhood.”

In a written statement, the Friends said that “As the landscape of the city evolves with modern design, it is important to maintain and highlight an edifice that is both architecturally beautiful and historically significant.  At the same time we want to make sure that the Study Report allows for creative and flexible design solutions that allow the much-needed program to move forward in the church.”

It continues, “We do think the Study Report needs to be updated to include community efforts over the past ten years to preserve and maintain the Church as a hub of community life, as well as the deterioration of the building itself, including the well-documented falling of coping stones from the top of the façade in late 2020.  There is an urgent need to move forward with the adaptive reuse of the church building while there is still a chance to preserve it.”

Charlie Adams of Pennrose said that “we like the idea that it’s a landmark to be preserved,” but also stated that he was worried that the landmark designation would remove “flexibility” from the proposed project.

BLC Chair Lynn Smiledge said that the BLC intends on being “very collaborative and flexible” when they review projects, and “these guidelines are a starting point.”

Though there was no vote taken on the landmark designation at this hearing, next steps include acceptance of written statements until August 12 at 5pm. Written comments can be sent to [email protected]

Following the public comment period, staff will determine if any amendments need to be made to the study report, and set a date for a hearing and vote on the report.

Blessed Sacrament Advisory Review

Also part of Tuesday’s hearing was an advisory review for the proposed project at the Blessed Sacrament Church, which includes converting the church into 55 affordable apartments, a 250+ capacity multipurpose community space, as well as landscaped spaces for use by the HSTF.

This is the second advisory review hearing for the project, and the team intends on returning to the BLC in a few weeks for an official vote on this project.

Charlie Adams of Pennrose said that the “highest priority” for the architectural team based on feedback from the last advisory review was to “take another hard look at the windows. We’ve made some revisions and some changes since the last time we spoke.”

He said that they were able to change the arched windows as requested by the Commission, but it comes at a higher cost.

Architect Philippe Charles Saad went through the proposal, starting with the windows. He said that the arched window profiles can remain at the upper stories and the transept, but the previously proposed two bedrooms have to become one bedrooms to allow that to happen.

Alternate window options were also presented at the lower stories, on the sides of the transept that faces Centre St., and above the entrances on Centre St. Masonry detail will also be preserved at all the existing window openings.

Saad also talked about the existing baptistry, which is closed, but the proposed has openings that could be used as a stage for performances.

He also talked about changing portions of the fenestration to make it “appropriate for housing,” which includes bringing the sill down from the upper windows, as well as adding punched openings on the south elevation.

Two colors were proposed for the addition in the back of the church: one a lighter, blonde colored brick, and one with a darker brick that would contrast with the existing red brick of the church.

Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, said that staff met with the design team and is “very happy with the direction this is going in.”

Landscape architect Amy Allen then spoke a bit about the proposed landscape design.

“The main goal is really to provide inclusive and accessible community space,”  Allen said, that will be used “for a variety of purposes” ranging from HSTF performances and events to other community gatherings to just general use by the neighborhood.

Materials like granite pavers, fixed and semi-moveable furniture, and granite block seating with a wood top are all being proposed for the outdoor area.

She said the proposal also includes “medium-size canopy trees with permeable paving underneath,” as well as maintaining existing street trees and providing bike parking. The existing Linden tree will also feature a wooden deck underneath.

Once the presentation was over, Commissioners made their comments.

“Thank you for taking so seriously our concerns about the windows,” BLC Chair Lynn Smiledge said. “It’s a very positive step that you’ve taken.”

Commissioner Jeffrey Gonyeau said that “I appreciate the direction you’ve gone in” with respect to the side elevations and the windows.

Commissioner David Berarducci said that the “window pattern makes sense for it becoming a residence,” and added that he feels the darker addition option is the better one. Several other Commissioners agreed with that sentiment.

After a few more comments were made surrounding the windows and the landscape plan, Adams said that he hopes to return to the Commission shortly to “get a decision” as the team hopes to “get through the zoning process” as soon as possible.

“We certainly support that,” Smiledge said. Cornish added that the plan is to have the team come to the August design review in two weeks for an official vote. Information on that hearing will be available on boston.gov/landmarks.

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