Church condos’ ‘last approval’ draws neighbor opposition
Continued worries over the condominiums planned to go up around Porter Square’s elegant St. James’s Episcopal Church has residents preparing to attend Wednesday’s meeting of the Planning Board, said Patricia Armstrong, a neighbor of the project.
“Oaktree has repeatedly stated from the start they needed no special permits,” Armstrong said, referring to the developer of the four-story, 78,000-square-foot modern structure that would go around the 122-year-old Richardson Romanesque church. “Now they are applying for additional special permits.”
The project, resulting from the closing of a car wash at 2013 Massachusetts Ave., is a partnership between Cambridge-based Oaktree Development and the 325-member church, which would retain the ground floor of the condominium structure (except for a small retail space) and get an endowment described as being as high as $3 million — and vital to the maintenance of the church building and its programs.
The appearance before the Planning Board is for “the last approval we need to prepare for demolition,” according to the church website. “The permit is required because the zoning changes just a few feet within our property line, requiring the city to sign off on the square footage of development planned for our fourth floor at the Beech Street end of the project.”
“They have approved everything else already and have even approved the square footage in principle,” the site says of the city. “This is just the last ‘jot and tittle’ to put in place.”
That’s not so clear to neighbors, Armstrong said.
“We asked the proponents — who made no effort to communicate with the neighbors on this issue — to reschedule to give us time to understand what is going on with their new requests for ‘relief’ from the city’s rules,” she said. “They have refused. So we will bring our concerns to this meeting and be heard.”
The plans’ shrinking of the open-to-the-public central garden, size and very design upsets neighbors. In November, the church was recommended for historical landmark status Nov. 4 by the city’s Historical Commission, although the status has to be approved by the City Council. The commission approved the project in general in July.
The meeting, to be held at the City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway, begins at 7 p.m.