The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) approved the proposal at 157 W. Springfield St. in the South End to repurpose the exist- ing Ebenezer Baptist Church to include nine units of housing during a re-discussion at the May 10 hear- ing.
The project was cited for the following zoning violations: it’s in the Groundwater Conservation Overlay District (GCOD), restricted roof structure, excessive Floor Area Ratio, insufficient usable open space, insufficient year far, and reconstruction/extension of nonconforming building.
Attorney George Morancy said that the proposal is an “adaptive residential reuse of the building at 157 W. Springfield St.,” which has been the Ebenezer Baptist Church for more than 130 years.
Morancy said that the church’s final service was held in early 2020, and due to the cost of maintaining the church, and the fact that “only about 20 percent of the congregants live in the neighborhood,” he said that the “difficult decision to relocate was made by the church out of necessity.”
Architect Michael DellaFave went through the breakdown of the units, saying that the nine units are broken down into two one bedroom flats at 650 square feet each, one of which is a “voluntary [Inclusionary Development Policy] unit,” one 800 square foot one bedroom flat, two 1500 square foot two bedroom flats, three three bedroom duplexes that are 1800 square feet each, and one 2500 square foot three bedroom triplex.
The project includes a total of nine parking spaces, one for each unit that will be “accessed through a small ramp on the righthand side,” DellaFave said.
The residential lobby sits at grade and provides handicap access to the building, and the three existing stoops are being kept “completely intact for Landmark reasons,” he said. “We feel that it’s important to maintain the validity of the existing structure.”
DellaFave continued, “the brick shell of the structure will remain,” but “the roof will be modified with a dormer-like addition on both sides.
The existing brick building will be restored, including the repainting and restoration of the three front doors which will feature glass. The stoops will also be restored, and the gardens in the front of the building will be “revitalized.”
Additionally, the project will “in some way memorialize the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the significant history that’s happened here.”
Kim Crucioli from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services reported that “numerous meetings,” including an abutters meeting in October, were held for this project. She also said that the proponents have “continued to communicate with the community since then, and the Mayor’s Office has received seven letters in support, including one from the Hurley Blocks Neighborhood Association. The Chester Square Neighbors submitted a letter of opposition.
Carol Blair from the Chester Square Neighbors said that the organization has had “many meetings with the development team,” and feels that the neighborhood does not “need more luxury housing. Workforce housing is in short supply and would be welcome.”
Blair said that “this building has been a meeting place” for the neighborhood, and would like to see the building be used for something like a child care center or another community space.
“We need neighborly interactions,” she said.
Blair also spoke about the importance of the church’s history and how it can “inspire” students at the nearby Hurley School, and spoke on behalf of a longtime Ebenezer parishioner who was unable to make it to the hearing. She said that this parishioner would like to see the project denied.
A Hurley School parent identified as Melissa said she has “great concerns about the lack of community space as well,” and also has concerns about the length of time that construction on this new project will take. She said the school is next door and the “field is right there,” so there are concerns about the children being so close to the construction.
Brian Gokey, Co-President of the Hurley Blocks Neighborhood Association, said that the “Ebenezer Baptist Church” has “been a fixture in our neighborhood for more than a century,” and “the church leadership enthusiastically supports this proposal and so do I.”
Naomi Schlossberg, whose “backyard fronts the alley shared by the church,” also said that she is in support of the proposal, “given the understanding that” the church is relying on the sale of this building to be able to continue on. She said she likes the proposal and appreciates the additional housing in the neighborhood.
“In light of the fact that it’s nine [units] but with an IDP, which I think is key, I’d like to make a motion to approve,” said ZBA member Joseph Ruggerio. The ZBA voted to approve the proposal as submitted.