Bay Village HDC Pleased with Isabella St Church Proposal

The the transportation of the former church at 19 Isabella Street into condos took a small step closer to reality on Tuesday night when Finegold Alexander presented its proposal in an advisory review at the Bay Village Historic District Commission hearing.

The architectural firm had presented an earlier iteration of this proposal at a Bay Village Licensing and Planning meeting in September. Rebecca Berry, a Principal at Finegold Alexander, said that they have also met with Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, and have made a few modifications to that plan after receiving input from Cornish.

The only modification they are looking to make to the front of the building includes getting rid of the center stairs leading into the church. The entry to the church currently has three major doorways with steps leading up to all of them. However, this is not compliant with accessibility regulations, so “we need to address accessibility while staying true to the original architecture,” Berry said.

The front steps will be removed and the center entrance will be dropped down to grade so it will be wheelchair accessible and people can come into the lobby right from sidewalk level.  The steps flanking the sides of the middle entry will remain, and will serve as entrances to units.

Tony Hsiao from Finegold Alexander said that the proposed addition to the church will not exceed the height of the peak on the back of the church, which will allow for the building to have six stories. They are also proposing to remove the boiler room and infill that area. On the side of the building, the existing windows will be reclaimed for residences, and the addition that will sit on top will have bay windows with balconies projecting outward. He added that the building will be cleaned, patched, and repaired where needed.

“We are imagining a fairly light transparency on the fenestration,” he said, adding that the slate roof would be replaced with some glass in order to make it appear as light as possible.

The church is so close to the street that the addition will not be very visible from Isabella Street, Hsiao said. They are still working out the color and the material for the addition, but Hsiao said that they “felt pretty comfortable about a middle color” in between white and something much darker.

David Goldman from New Boston Ventures said that while it’s still a rough number, they’re looking at 32-34 units total. A lot of them are going to be 700-800 square units; quite a few one bedrooms. There will be some larger units as well, but he said there’s been a shift in wanting smaller units.

“I’m very impressed,” said Commissioner Anne Kilguss. “I think it’s very nice; I think it’s beautiful.”

“I remember being concerned in previous iterations that it was too boxy,” said Commissioner Stephen Dunwell. But the Commission and the community think this new proposal is a big improvement.

“I like the way that it keeps the lines of the church,” said Commissioner Ruth Knopf. None of the commissioners had a problem with taking the front steps out.

Goldman said that after all of the approvals and building permit are granted (which does not have a set timeline), they are looking at a 14-18 month construction period. He said that the general contractor they are using is the same one that they partnered with on a development a few years back on Cape Cod, and spoke highly of them. The developers are also looking for comments and suggestions from the community to strengthen the overall design.

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