A development proposal at 14 N. Bennet St., the former St. Leonard’s rectory in Boston’s North End, was met with skepticism by the North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) which voted 5-4 to oppose the zoning variance application.
The petitioner, George Kouris of Epsilon Partners, with architect Isaac Smith and attorney Daniel Toscano, presented their appeal to change the legal occupancy of the building from a rectory to create eight condominium residential units by adding a one-story addition as the fifth floor. A private roof deck would be available to the top floor unit. The building would be approximately 55 feet in total height, before mechanicals and headhouse. A shadow study was also presented, indicating limited new shadow from the addition which would be setback from the building’s edge.
The Franciscan Friars organization out of New York has put the property up for sale. The disposition agreement with the developer is contingent upon receiving the necessary zoning variances. Specifically, the variances required relate to an increase in floor-to-area ration (3.7 to 3.9), roof conversion, lack of parking and rear yard.
Over a dozen abutters attended the NEWNC meeting to oppose the development. Columbus Court condo owners identified a loss of privacy, views, light and open space from the addition and proposed balconies. “We understand the need for renovation and are not opposed to redevelopment, but have serious reservations regarding the addition, roof deck and balconies,” said one resident. They also expressed concerns regarding a single fire egress, which is allowed because of the proposed sprinkler system. The group pleaded for more time to work with the developer before the application goes to the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal.
North Ender, Thomas Schiavoni, spoke about the rectory as a “sacred space” for the neighborhood and its role in church traditions. The neighboring St. Christopher’s Friary houses elderly brothers and priests and could be negatively impacted by the proposal that could be less than 8 feet away. He also raised concerns regarding shared infrastructure with the church, underground passages and utilities such as heating pipes. Lastly, he echoed abutter questions regarding structural integrity with an added floor.
NEWRA’s Kirstin Hoffman spoke about the property’s listing as a historic asset, listed in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS).
After the one-hour discussion, NEWNC voted 5-4 to oppose the proposal. Council members in opposition included Faller, Guarino, Salvati, Simboli and Natale. Those in support were Bova, Leo, DiPaola and Pregmon.
View the above video for the complete presentation and debate. The proposal will be presented to North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) on Thursday, December 12th. Both NEWNC and NEWRA votes are advisory to the Zoning Board of Appeal. Attorney Toscano said he expects the proponent will be heard by city officials in February or March 2020, which will make the final determination.