At Monday’s Bay Village Planning/Licensing Committee meeting, representatives from New Boston Ventures and Finegold Alexander Architects presented a very preliminary proposal for turning the church at 19 Isabella St. into condominiums.
Harry Collings of New Boston Ventures told the Bay Village community that this was strictly an informational session to let them know where they are in the process. He said they have not yet gone to the Boston Planning and Development Agency or the Zoning Board because they wanted “to meet with the community first.”
“We see the neighborhood as part of the team,” Collings said, adding that they want to listen to any suggestions the community has regarding the project.
Tony Hsiao, principal/director of design at Finegold Alexander Architects, reiterated the fact that this project is in its very early stages.
The proposal includes removing the existing center steps to the front entrance on Isabella Street, which would become the main entrance for residents. This would allow the entrance to be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The staircases flanking the entrance on either side would would remain, and would be privatized entrances to two different units. There would also be 20 parking spots at the lower level for residents.
The building would have six levels, and Hsiao said that the sizes of the condos are not yet fixed. The current proposal includes 29 condominium units, though Hsiao stressed that this is very preliminary.
“The intent is to preserve the spirit of the church,” Hsiao said. He also said that the church is in “really great shape.”
Rebecca Berry, president of Finegold Alexander, said that as far as height goes, they are only going a little bit above the current height of the church. David Goldman, a principal at New Boston Ventures, said that they “explored doing a much-taller building” but decided to scale it back. The current allowed Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is around a 2, but the proposed FAR for this project is a 4.
A community member raised a question about why the developers have to go beyond the footprint of the church when it is already such a large building.
Goldman responded by saying that since the acquisition price of the building was so high, this was the “bare minimum we could do to get a bank involved in the project.” He added that every single development that New Boston Ventures has done has been successfully financed, built, and marketed.
Goldman also said that they are looking for a mix of tenants, as the current proposal includes one small studio unit, 12 one-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom units, and two three bedroom units. He said this was the direction they were looking to go in because the demand is moving towards slightly more affordable units for first-or second-time homebuyers.
He also said they were talking with the City about complying with the guidelines for affordable housing, and said that a certain percentage of it will be on site.
The building has not been officially purchased by the developer yet, though they do have an agreement to buy it. The developer and the architects said they will keep the community updated about this project.
Also presented at the meeting was a revision of the proposal for 67-69 Church St. Attorney Marc LaCasse said that these changes came about in response to comments from the presentation in June, as well as the Bay Village Historic District Commission, individuals in the neighborhood, and BPDA staff architects.
The proposal includes a four-and-a-half-story building with commercial space at street level, two units on the second level, two units on the third level, and a single unit on the fourth level with extra space on the private half-story above.
Architect Anthony Piermarini said that they are hoping to restore some of the historic character of the cornice line. They also received feedback about how they could “warm up” the dark iron color that was originally proposed for the top stories. They have looked at antiqued materials and light bronzes.
This proposal has an FAR of 3.9, and at the peak of the half story, the building is 56 feet tall. Construction should take roughly a year, and since there is no parking on site, they would be seeking a variance to have no parking. The Bay Village Neighborhood Association is very interested in the installation of security cameras that feed directly into the Boston Police Department, and the developers said that is something that they would be happy to work on with the neighborhood.
Piermarini said that though the half story is not visible from the street level below, the developers admitted that it will be visible from the surrounding roofs. An abutting community member expressed her dissatisfaction with the blocking of her sightlines, and wondered if that extra half-story was really necessary.
The developers responded by saying that they think they do need this extra piece for the project, but would be willing to speak with her. Other neighbors expressed their concern with the height and why so many variances in the zoning code are allowed.
“I think it’s very much an abutter issue here,” said BVNA Vice-President Sarah Herlihy.
Now that the architects and developers have met again with the community, the next step is to hold an abutters meeting with Fasia Sharif from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. The date and time are to be determined.