Brunswick church stunned by demolition denial

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BRUNSWICK — Despite efforts by All Saints Parish to convince the Village Review Board that the former rectory at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church is useless and costly to maintain, the board denied a request to demolish the building.

The board tied 3-3, but the motion failed because it did not win a majority.

Parishioners and church officials attended Tuesday night’s meeting and were visibly upset by the decision, which came at the end of a 90-day moratorium on demolition imposed by the VRB in October.

The parish was seeking to demolish the Pleasant Street building because it no longer houses nuns or priests. Additionally, parish officials said the rectory’s location near the handicapped-accessible entrance to the church made it difficult for disabled or elderly people to park close enough to that door.

The parish wanted to demolish the building and replace it with handicapped parking.

In October, the VRB told 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 didn’t have to be destroyed. Members also argued that the 112-year-old rectory, which was designed by local architect Samuel Dunning, was historically significant, although it is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On Tuesday, engineer Charlie Wiercinski of Sitelines and Don Leaver, the parish business coordinator, explained how they tried, unsuccessfully, to solicit bids to move the rectory.

They also provided more detail on the financial cost of maintaining the vacant rectory – about $11,000 annually – and argued that the building doesn’t fit with the church’s plans for the property.

During the public comment period, proponents and opponents of the demolition spoke out, including The Rev. Ann Broomell of neighboring St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. She suggested parking lot lighting and storm water run-off from the St. John’s property would have a detrimental impact on her church.

Others, like Frank Dillon, a former member of the All Saints Parish pastoral council, said the money spent on maintaining the rectory would be better spent on social programs.

VRB member Jeff Pelletier said the board was in a tough position.

“The intended use of this building doesn’t apply anymore, and its extreme proximity to the church makes it difficult to be used,” Pelletier said. “… Where does our role fit?”

But others on the board, including Chairman Emily Swan, said they still believe the building can be re-used.

“It’s not impossible to do something else with that building,” Swan said. “I don’t feel like enough (alternative uses) have been explored yet.”

That opinion produced audible disagreement from the audience.

When it came time to vote, Brooks Stoddard, Laurie Leader and Swan voted against allowing the demolition. Jane Chrichton, Janet Roberts and Pelletier were in favor.

The tied vote generated much confusion on the part of the board members, who appeared not to know how to proceed until Town Planner Kris Hultgren explained that the motion needed a majority of votes to carry.

Wiercinski urged the board to reconsider, warning that the next step would be an appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which he believed would overturn the ruling.

But the board did not reconsider. Swan said Wiercinski is welcome to appeal the vote based on the VRB’s findings of fact.

Outside the meeting, Leaver said he was “too emotional” to discuss on the decision. He said the parish must get together as a group and discuss how to proceed.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

Sidebar Elements

Oak Street apartment building to be torn down

BRUNSWICK — A six-unit apartment building that was damaged by fire in April 2011 may finally be coming down.

Codes Enforcement Officer Jeff Hutchinson said Wednesday that he spoke Monday with Jeffrey Matthews, the owner of 16-18 Oak St., about getting the necessary permits to demolish the building.

The building has been an on-going source of complaints from neighbors who say it is an unsafe eyesore.

Because the building is in the Village Review District, Matthews will need a certificate of appropriateness for demolition in addition to a demolition permit from the codes enforcement office.

A clause in the town’s zoning ordinance, however, allows the director of planning and development to grant a certificate in cases where “in her/his judgment, the impact of the proposed activities will be minor and in keeping with the review standards of the Ordinance.”

Anna Breinich, director of planning and development, has recused herself from the demolition process because she owns a condominium next door to the burned building, so Town Manager Gary Brown will have to sign off on the certificate on her behalf.

Hutchinson said Matthews has yet to turn in his application, but he expects him to do so before the end of the week. The building could be demolished as early as next week.

Matthews could not be reached for comment.

— Emily Guerin