BRUNSWICK — The first phase of a $4.75 million event center at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church received final approval from the Planning Board Tuesday night.
The 5-0 vote, with Robert Burgess absent, followed public comment from one speaker, an enthusiastic fan of the project who lives close to where the 14,700-square-foot, multi-use building is planned at 39 Pleasant St.
The board also approved a rural, 17-house open-space subdivision off Hacker Road.
Members of St. John’s celebrated in the hallway at Town Hall after Tuesday night’s approval, which will launch a multi-phase effort to redesign the face of the church campus, including the replacement of St. John’s Catholic School.
The event center has been planned for 10 years and will include a gymnasium, stage, music room, kitchen, chapel, meeting room, locker rooms and bathrooms.
“It’s the only Catholic School within 800 square miles,” said Jim Baskerville, parish chairman for the project. “Both the school and the church greatly need a cafeteria, auditorium and general meeting space.”
The plan has barely changed from a sketch that was approved in September 2016; a Common Development Plan for the entire parcel was approved the previous July.
At those meetings – and at a Village Review Board meeting in November 2016 – the project faced challenges from neighbors who were concernded the scale of the building was inappropriate for the Pleasant Street corridor.
No critics were present, however, for Tuesday’s final approval.
Construction on Pleasant Street will not begin until next spring, although a ceremonial groundbreaking is planned for this fall when the project goes out to bid, Baskerville said.
The second phase of the project will require separate Planning Board approval to demolish the old convent, build a new, two-story, 13,200-square-foot school, and redevelop the parking lot and surrounding landscaping.
The parking lot will remain throughout the duration of Phase I, Kevin Clark of Brunswick-based Sitelines engineering told the board Tuesday.
Events previously took place in the basement of the church, which used to accommodate 600 people. That space went from not ideal to inadequate when a recent change in the fire code reduced the maximum occupancy to 200.
Planning Board Chairman Charlie Frizzle speculated Tuesday that the new event center would be unlikely to change the amount of traffic on Pleasant Street, since the area could previously accommodate large crowds.
“Congratulations. I know this has been a long haul,” Frizzle said after the vote. “I think it’ll be a nice addition to Pleasant Street.”
The construction of 17 new homes on Hacker Road won’t likely begin for a few months, according to developer Robert Muller, although final plans for the project were approved 5-0 Tuesday.
The project, called Douglas Ridge subdivision, still needs permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which could take up to six months.
The development is on a 40-acre parcel about midway between River Road and Durham Road; more than half of the land will be preserved for conservation and will abut existing conservation land at the Two Echo Cohousing development next door.
“I think everyone was pleasantly surprised” by the condition of the woods, board member Jane Arbuckle said, adding it was evident the property would support trails and recreation.
At her suggestion, the board added a condition to the project approval that the public would be provided easy and available access to the land, which is set behind the area slated for development.
The 17 homes will be constructed along a private road that dips off Hacker Road and branches into two spurs; the building footprints will be between 1,600 and 2,000 square feet.
Edited 8/4: To clarify that events formerly took place in the church basement.
An architect’s rendering of the planned All Saint’s Parish multi-use event center at 39 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. The project’s first phase received approval from the Planning Board Aug. 1.