CPC Recommends Rehabilitation Plan for St. John Cantius Church
NORTHAMPTON – In a lengthy meeting on August 24, Northampton’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC) voted unanimously to recommend $500,000 in funding under the Community Preservation Act for the rehabilitation of the old church of St. John Cantius.
In 2010, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield closed Hawley Street Church and Phillips Place after myriad parish consolidations. After several groups submitted plans to redevelop the church, which was built in 1913 by Polish Catholic immigrants, O’Connell Development in Holyoke bought the property for $1.26million after efforts failed of redevelopment.
O’Connell initially said they would preserve the church and place townhouses there, but the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on that plan, so the development group called for the church to be completely demolished. for five units of three-story houses at 10 Hawley St.
Also in 2021, the city offered to purchase the church for $550,000 to use the property for the city’s Community Resilience Hub, a resource center for the homeless. O’Connell, however, declined the offer in the fall.
After the public pushed back against the possibility of the church being demolished, O’Connell came back with a plan for redevelopment of the church last spring.
The CCP meeting
With the CPC’s recommendation, the development group will now go before city council at an upcoming meeting to see if council will formally approve the $500,000 for the redevelopment plan.
O’Connell hopes to use the money to fund repairs to the church’s masonry wall and roof where tiles are cracked and missing, and gutters and downspouts need replacing. The money is part of a larger $4.6 million project to build 10 rental residences.
The city’s historic commission voted in favor of the renovation plans at a meeting on August 8. If O’Connell receives the money, the commission will accept responsibility for enforcing a preservation agreement on the property.
According to Brian Adams, CPC president, the organization received nearly 61 letters prior to the Aug. 24 meeting regarding the redevelopment plan. Adams said 48 of the letters were in favor of the plan while 13 were against.
“With the possible exception of one case, everyone loves the idea of historic preservation,” Adams said. “There are quite a few people who are very opposed to public funding of historic preservation.”
Members of the committee, as well as some members of the public, were concerned about the idea of providing public funds to a private church that will ultimately be used for market-priced housing, rather than affordable housing.
“It seems to me from my reading that everyone is in favor of historic preservation, but not everyone is in favor of public money going to historic preservation,” Adams said.
George Kohout, president of the Friends of Northampton Trails and member of the Planning Council, was one of many public commentators who spoke out against the possibility of a $500,000 credit for O’Connell.
“[The church] is a historic touchstone for many immigrants to this area and for the many people who grew up in Ward 3,” Kohout said. “If we lost him, we would surely miss him.”
Jackie Balance, a resident who also spoke during the public comment portion, also seemed hesitant to support the $500,000 allocation for this redevelopment plan. “I think half a million dollars is a lot of money to give to someone who is going to make a big profit by transforming one of our architectural treasures in Northampton,” she said. .
“I would feel really different if it wasn’t market-priced accommodation,” said another resident. “If there was affordable housing in there, great, that would be a wonderful thing.”
According to Matthew Welter, vice president of development at O’Connell, the redevelopment plan will not include an ownership or condominium structure, but the $500,000 is needed by the group to develop the 10 rental residences. He also said that the rebuilt church with 10 rental units at market price will be listed on the municipal tax roll, which means there will be a refund. “I think a for-profit developer is probably in the best position to take on this financial responsibility, which will be significant,” Welter said.
According to Northampton Conservation and Preservation Planner Sarah LaValley, without historic preservation the property could be resold for an extra $640,000.
Accompanying the vote were a few conditions for O’Connell to consider as the project progresses. They will need to document that their work is a report on historic structures, and they must also hire a historic preservation consultant.