BRUNSWICK — Three months after rejecting a request to tear down four vacant houses at the intersection of Pleasant and Stanwood streets, the Village Review Board changed course Tuesday and approved the demolition.
But it instituted a 90-day moratorium on another Pleasant Street demolition, of the former rectory at St. John’s Church.
This was the second time the request to demolish the buildings on the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets had been brought before the board by the landowner, the Brunswick Development Corp.
The BDC bought the buildings for nearly $1 million with the intention of tearing them down and transferring the land to the town for the construction of a police station.
This time, the BDC came armed with attorney John Bannen, who examined each criteria for demolition and argued that the board should allow the buildings to be torn down because redevelopment of the buildings would be costly and the rate of return on investment too low.
He also said two of the buildings, 85 Pleasant St. and 3 Stanwood St., only contributed minimally to the character of the neighborhood and didn’t meet the board’s criteria for preservation.
Bannen also attempted to address the board’s concern about what would happen to the property after demolition, by pointing to the town council’s unanimous Sept. 19 vote to affirm its intention to build the police station on the site.
Initially, board members expressed some concern over what the vacant lot might look like in the interim and about the changing character of the Pleasant Street corridor in light of another proposed demolition further down the street.
But eventually they voted unanimously to allow the BDC to go ahead with the demolition.
BDC President Larissa Darcy said that with the board’s approval in hand, the organization could now entertain bids for demolition and asbestos abatement. She didn’t know how soon the buildings would be gone, but said she hopes it would be as soon as possible.
Just down the block from the BDC’s demolition site, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland wants to knock down the former St. John’s rectory and replace it with handicapped parking.
Charles Wiercinski, of the engineering firm Sitelines, said the church no longer has a need for the building, which used to house nuns and priests who worked at St. John’s school. It has been vacant for 10 years, and he said the church has tried unsuccessfully to find someone to buy the structure and move it.
Don Leaver, the business coordinator of All Saints Parish, said parishioners have been unable to attend church services because they can’t park close enough to the first-floor entrance, which is next to the rectory.
But four residents from the surrounding neighborhood urged the board to prevent the demolition.
Kevin Twine, of Oak Street, cited the architectural legacy of the rectory, which was designed by Samuel Dunning and built in 1900. He also questioned the visual impact of the demolition on the neighborhood, and compared removing the rectory to pulling a tooth.
Chris Ludwick, of High Street, said the church is already surrounded by surface parking and doesn’t need anymore.
“St. John the Evangelist is not the patron saint of asphalt. I’m not sure who the patron saint of pavers is, but they’re doing pretty well at the moment,” Ludwick said.
He said the proposal to tear down the building for a parking lot showed “a lack of imagination” on the part of the parish.
Village Review Board members agreed, and encouraged the parish to try harder to find a way to move or sell the building, or to create handicapped parking in a way that the rectory doesn’t have to be destroyed.
“I’m just not convinced the parish tried everything it can to keep that,” Brooks Stoddard said. “I feel that to get handicapped access and take that away is not a good change.”
Although the church may not demolish the building in the next 90 days, it can return to the board sooner to make another request.