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St. Augustine's Church might avoid demolition under plan to convert it to housing

Posted by Patrick Rosso  March 5, 2013 03:39 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)


St. Augustine’s, located at 225 Dorchester St.


Developers of a planned condominium project in South Boston told residents Monday night that they may be able to avoid demolishing the old St. Augustine’s Church building by converting it to housing.

Nearly 100 residents packed the Boys & Girls Club in South Boston for the second time to hear about plans to construct condos housing units on the sites of the vacant church and its former school.

Many residents had been upset that church might fall to the wrecking ball. The property, at 225 Dorchester St., holds significance for generations in the neighborhood, hosting marriages, funerals, and baptisms.

The church and school were closed in 2004 by the Archdiocese of Boston because of mounting financial pressures. Since then, the structures have sat unused and in deteriorating shape, stripped of their alters, pews, stained glass, and other property by the Archdiocese.

The church, which sits on an approximately 23,409-square-foot lot, and school, placed on a 25,568-square-foot lot, were purchased by the developers approximately four-months ago for an estimated $2.4 million, according to Daniel.

Plans originally called for the demolition of the church. But at Monday’s meeting, developer Bruce Daniel said he and his fellow developers could keep the church and rehab it as housing, although there would be trade-offs.

“No one was happy with the church proposal,” Daniel told the crowd Monday. “We hear you; we get there is a huge emotional tie to the building, and we’re willing to try to rehab the church.”

The church was originally constructed in 1874, according to documents provided by the Boston Landmarks Commission. A 2004 petition submitted to the commission to designate the church a landmark was rejected, because its significance was deemed too localized.

Daniel’s new proposal, which would keep the church, is still in the works. But he said it could fit up to 25 two-bedroom units with about 12-15 parking spaces in its basement.

A previous proposal called for the demolition of the church to make way for 32 two-bedroom units with 68-parking spaces and space for the Community Art Center. The art center would not be included in the new plan.

But to keep the church Daniel said his group would have to demolish the school.

“We’d like to rehab the church and take down the school,” said Daniel. “It’s a better economic deal.”

This caused some shouts of protest from the crowd, but the majority of those in attendance Monday night were most concerned with the church remaining.

In place of the school Daniel proposed constructing two three-story buildings for 48 two-bedroom units and 64 underground parking spaces. Some of the parking would be used for the church’s units, located three streets away.

Although many were happy to hear the church might stay, the project received an all too common community response: it’s too big and there’s not enough parking.

If plans to demolish the school and keep the church were to come to fruition there would be an approximate 1:1 ratio of parking spaces to units, which many said isn’t enough.

“It’s too big, you’re changing the fabric of the neighborhood,” exclaimed Kevin Lally, a 61-year-old South Boston resident.

Calls were also made by residents for single-family or two-family homes on the site, something Daniel said wasn’t economical.

“The church is expensive to rehab, we need to make our money out of the school,” said Daniel.

A public hear will be held Mar. 27 before the Boston Landmarks Commission regarding the demolition of the two structures. Daniel said his group will proceed with the process for the school, but will ask for an “indefinite delay” for the demolition review of the church.

Any plans still must get approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, a process that includes a public meeting and public comment period. The project because of its size will also most likely have to appear before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Daniel said his group expects to to generate preliminary plans for the church in the coming weeks. The developers said they would meet again with the once they have a firmer grasp on the idea.

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Email Patrick D. Rosso, patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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