Featured Meetings Real Estate

Residents Association Opposes 14 N. Bennet St. (Former St. Leonard’s Rectory) Conversion

Plans to covert the St. Leonard’s Rectory at 14. N. Bennet St. to eight residential units and a one-story addition with rear decks and roof decks were opposed by the North End/Waterfront Residents Association (NEWRA) at their December meeting.

The proposal was presented by Attorney Daniel Toscano, representing George Kouris of Epsilon Partners. Also in attendance was the architect, Isaac Smith. Many in attendance came prepared to voice their concerns. NEWRA voted 3 in support and 23 against.

Watch the video above and follow along with this timeline.

(1:43) Toscano opened by addressing some general issues that have come up about this project.

  • If the proposal is approved, the team is required to put forward a structural engineer, but at this point they are not required to present structural engineering plans.
  • Fire concerns: There is one existing stairwell. The whole building will be renovated and it will be meeting building code. ISD will vet the plans again when construction plans are submitted.
  • There is a shared heating and electrical system between this building and St. Leonard’s Church. If this project moves forward, the team will be obligated to separate that system.
  • Toscano also reiterated that Kouris does not know why the friars sold the property, who got notice of the sale, etc.

(6:28) Property maps and building renderings are shared. The use would change from rectory to eight residential units. The violations encountered are an increase in floor-to-area ratio (3.7 to 3.9), roof conversion, lack of parking, and rear yard setback.

(10:30) There will be four two-bedroom, two-bath units and four one-bedroom units. Units on the second and third floors would be between 585 sq.ft. and 685 sq. ft. Units 1A, 1B, 4A, and 4B are all duplex units, 2-bed 2-bath, that would be about 1100-1300 sq. ft.

(11:47) The fifth floor (upper levels for the 4A and 4B units) would be the new addition. It would be setback six feet from the edge of the property, so as to not interfere with the current facade and to eliminate shadow and privacy issues. The roof deck would be for the exclusive use of the top units. These are setback an additional 6 feet, so 12 feet from the property line.

(14:00) The building would be approximately 55 feet in total height, before mechanicals and headhouse. The building next to it, which abuts the Polcari Playground outside the Nazzaro Center, is about 65 feet.

(15:20) Architect Isaac Smith presented a shadow study indicating limited new shadow from the addition as most of the streets in this area are already in shade from surrounding buildings. An attendee asked for an actual percentage of the new shadow impact. Smith indicated this would involve a much more detailed analysis that would not be particularly fruitful.

Questions and statements from the audience begin at 20:10.

(20:10) An abutter asked for the cost of the structural study to offer more clarity to the neighbors and the church. Kouris responded that the study could cost anywhere between $10,000 to $40,000 all depending on what you need to do. He emphasized that, at the end of the day, they’re not going to cut corners.

(26:17) North Ender Thomas Schiavoni, who is an abutter and a parishioner at St. Leonard’s Church, spoke about his concerns for the privacy and respect of the church. He said there is a petition started by parishioners that already has 150 signatures to oppose the project.

Schiavoni explained his major concerns about the rear of the building. There is a courtyard easement in the back that is only accessible by a door from the rectory. Schiavoni shared the diagram below of the space.

On one side of the courtyard is the friary, which acts as a home for retired priests and brothers. That friary has eleven windows looking out on the courtyard. Schiavoni expressed concerns about the privacy of those living in the friary as well as the privacy of the church sacristy, which also has two windows looking out on the courtyard.

(37:57) Abutter Ellen Hume, who lives in Columbus Court across the street, raised other issues. She stated that the residents of the building asked for a delay so they could review the proposal, but this was not granted. She added that the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System recognizes this area as a historic area. Hume also has structural and fire safety concerns.

NEWRA voted to oppose the proposal 23-3. The North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) also opposed the proposal with a vote of 5-4 at their December meeting.

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