BVHDC Approves Conversion of Former Church on Isabella St. To Condos

The Bay Village Historic District Commission (BVHDC) on Tuesday approved the conversion of the former Our Lady of Victories church into condominiums with an addition, a project that has been discussed for a long time in the neighborhood.

This project has already come before the Commission for two advisory reviews, but was officially approved on August 10.

Architect Rebecca Berry provided an update to Commissioners about where the project team is in the process, and presented the latest iteration of the proposal.

The last time this project came before the Commission was in February, and Berry said that since then, the Article 80 review with the city is continuing, as is community outreach. Additionally, both the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Board and the Zoning Board of Appeal have approved the project.

Berry said that the “most important” proposed change to the existing church building is making it accessible for future residents by removing the stairs at the front of the building.

She said that when the architectural team conducted research on the church building, it was found that the existing stairs are not original. “What is currently there today is not what was there historically,” Berry said.

The proposal includes 18 condominium units, with one one bedroom unit and the remaining 17 units are  a “mix of generously sized two and three bedroom units,” she said. Wherever possible, the units are provided with balconies or roof terraces that are accessed by individual units only.

Parking is provided at street level off of Piedmont St., and bike storage will be provided, as well as bike racks at the front of the building. There will be a new sidewalk installed along Isabella St., and landscape improvements will be made at the front as well.

Berry also briefly described the layout of the building, saying that the ground floor includes parking towards the rear, and the one bedroom unit. This unit is considered a loft unit, and will span from the ground floor to the first floor. Levels two through five will feature different units, and levels six and seven are duplex units with private roof terraces. The upper level is set back from the edges so it is less visible.

“In terms of the approach to the architecture, the church building itself as we have noted before will be completely restored,” Berry said. The masonry and the stone detailing will be cleaned, and areas that need repointing will be repointed.

“All of the existing windows are well past their life,” she added, so they are being removed and replaced with windows that replicate the detail and color of the existing ones.

The addition, which begins at the fourth floor, is only visible from the corner when standing in front of the existing church building. The penthouse will feature “minimal” detailing, and the upper portion of the addition will have “interlocking zinc panel cladding,” Berry said, that will feature “a variety of widths.” The color will be a “classic weathered gray,” and that color will also be in the mullions.

At the northwest addition, the team has proposed “an ironspot masonry,” but the color has yet to be officially chosen. The team is looking at either a “very dark red brick that does not attempt to match the existing building,” Berry said, or a “true purple iron clad brick” that is darker. The entirety of the northwest addition will be clad in this material.

Some other minor details were also discussed by the Commission and the project team.

There was a question about the alley from the Commission, and the team said that the alley is owned by The Marc condominiums and this project has an easement to use it.

All in all, the Commission seemed pleased with the changes presented and praised the project as a whole.

“Overall, I think you’ve improved the design, especially in the back corner with the removal of the balcony [from a previous proposal],” said Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission. He also praised the fact that the additions have been located away from the sidewalks so more of the existing church building can be focused on.

“From what the commission had seen in January and February, it’s an even better project,” Cornish said, adding that he’s “seen nothing but good improvements.”

Commissioner Stephen Dunwell said that he is a fan of the detailing around the windows, as well as the “sense of verticality that comes up over the vaulted windows and so forth. I think it comes together very nicely.” He continued, “I’m very much in favor of it; I think it’s going to be a terrific project.”

Commissioner Ruth Knopf said she agrees with Dunwell, adding that “I think that the changes that have been made are really enhancing.”

Several members of the public also made comments, including Tom Perkins and Sarah Herlihy of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association.

In the chat, Perkins wrote that the “BVNA voted not to oppose. I agree with Steve Dunwell’s observations that the added details and subtle changes have improved this project with each iteration. Not everyone in the neighborhood is in favor of this project, but a large majority are supportive.”

Herlihy said that this project “has been through three different developers now,” and while there is “never uniform support for projects, this one does have broad support.” She added that she feel sit is “important to get this project done” as soon as possible so as to preserve the historic church before it is too late.

The BVHDC voted to approve this project with the proviso that all materials chosen for the exterior of the building be discussed with Landmarks staff.

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