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Neighborhood Council Opposes Rectory Conversion and Addition in Close Vote [Video]

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.

14. North Bennet Street rendering with 5th Floor addition

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.

8 Replies to “Neighborhood Council Opposes Rectory Conversion and Addition in Close Vote [Video]

  1. I completely agree and against any shape or form that is going to hurt our Church masses and people going to just sit and pray in a quiet atmosphere in our lords house.

  2. Start a historic landmarking for the building and extended St Leonard’s property. That will slow everything down so that residents and parishioners can have some control. Pending landmarking status applies actual landmarking consideration as if the property were already so designated. Change of use is significant. Friars in a rectory are quiet, reclusive, and hardly ever own a vehicle. Sudden change to 8 individual units with balconies, roof deck, and certain car ownership is significant impact.

    Very disheartening to see the Franciscans doing this and not even placing the building on the open market. To be sure, a few parishioners could have pooled assets and bid. Jones Lang Lasalle never does individual buildings like this. Unless this is some favor to the Franciscans to waive the broker fee, something is not right here. Legitimate question is is St Christopher’s Friary next??

    If the Franciscans planned to offload this property, why did they not do it while St Leonard’s was in the middle of fundraising for restoration and donate the proceeds?

    Very sad for the Mother Parish that fostered so many other Italian parishes in the area. Could this sale be the result of lifting the statute of limitations for clergy sex abuse in some jurisdictions? Essentially the window for claims once closed has been opened. Read here:

    The Associated Press has posted a long-form piece on the likely impact of the new waves of claims alleging clergy sex abuse, titled: “Legal Reckoning: New abuse suits could cost Catholic Church over $4 billion.” A short version of this is attached, 1,000 words.
    The cause is an expected New Wave of civil suits, mostly in the 15 states that have recently passed stronger statutes covering the abuse of minors.

    Ø The killer provision in many states is a look-back window creating an open season for filing claims regardless of the date of the occurrence.

    The AP’s analysis focuses on three states with look-back provisions: NY, CA and NJ.
    The bottom line is the expectation of “…at least 5,000 new cases against the church [in those three states] … resulting in potential payouts that could surpass the $4 billion paid out since…the 1980s.”

    Ø NY has a one-year open window; NJ opens its two-year window later this month; California’s three-year window opens in January.

  3. Rather than nondescript rectory building, neighborhood should prioritize saving Sacred Heart Church in North Square as a historic structure (on Freedom Trail, and previously Seamen’s Bethel), it’s been closed for many months, now, and no mention of it was made in Fr. Antonio’s recent farewell letter. Hopefully, new rector will commit to preserving it – it could bring in enough revenue alone from services like weddings and funerals (OK, but inevitable).

    1. I so agree and often wondered why Sacred Heart was never landmarked? Its history predates the Catholic presence and its minister was the model for the minister in Moby Dick! Herman Melville was a congregant there. Directly across from Paul Revere’s House and facing the oldest city square in the country!!! It is a surprising gem in that when most churches altered post Vatican II, it remained preserved with mahogany and walnut and amazing stained glass windows. It was the church that married so many Italian immigrants from beyond Boston. I was surprised to find that both sets of my grandparents were married there, though they never lived in Boston.
      Landmark it and petition for preservation grant.

  4. NIMBY handwringing is insufferable. This proposal is an exceedingly modest way to repurpose a surplus church building. As an Irish and Portuguese Catholic, I say: Yes In God’s Backyard. Let’s see this project approved!

    1. Rooftop and balconies? LOL Really. Much needed housing for those who can afford minimum of 1.5 million Off the backs of Italian immigrants who could barely support their own families. The luxury housing that has developed from closed church property is an insult to Catholic belief especially to those raised in the Franciscan tradition. We are not talking about housing immigrants or homeless or those who have fled persecution in their homelands. But for the sacrifices of destitute Italian immigrants this property would not exist today. The descendants should be front and center in any decision to sell or repurpose.

    2. I agree Jared. Just approve the project. If not condos, what else? It was a dormitory for the friars. It is not a church. Of course, with light coming in on just the one side of the building, how can the condos be lavish or even luxury ? Roof top not needed if renovated as start-up condos for the Italian families or their youth. Not ALL renovations need to be super. A nice modest set up for middle class people and drop the usual amenities (additions; decks; roof tops).

  5. I do not want to see this project go forward! This is exactly what happened with all our catholic schools in the North End (Julie Billiard (JB), Christopher Columbus, Paul Revere (St Anthony’s) and the CC Center), they are now all condos.
    The Archdioceses sold all the properties and then they were turned into condos.
    Lets work on saving Sacred Heart Church.
    It’s a shame.

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