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Affordable housing plan for JP church

Plan calls for affordable housing, community center on ground floor

Anna Lamb
Affordable housing plan for JP church
The Boston Landmarks Commission has written in support of preserving the historic character of the Blessed Sacrament Church and other buildings in its complex. BANNER FILE PHOTO

After the proposed redevelopment of the iconic Blessed Sacrament Church in Jamaica Plain was met with community skepticism, plans to not only preserve its place in the neighborhood but to make it functional seem to be coming to fruition. On Monday night developers gave hopeful updates about an impending landmark status recently added to the project looking to install affordable housing and a community arts space inside the former house of worship.

Last year the Hyde Square Task Force, a neighborhood group that bought the building in 2014 in a well-intentioned effort to transform it into a community center, put the crumbling structure up for public bidding after finding the repair work prohibitively expensive. As concern grew over the possibility of luxury tenants moving into the space, what resulted was a months-long community-led process in picking a developer to design a mutually beneficial project.

Pennrose, a national developer with multiple offices spread throughout the Northeast and which boasts 2,300 units developed in historic rehabs, won out last fall with a proposal to create a mix of affordable housing and a community performance space while preserving the iconic facade of Blessed Sacrament.

Satisfying skeptics and making good on its promises so far, an almost forgotten attempt at preserving the church has now made its way back into the Pennrose proposal.

According to Harry Smith, a member of the Friends of Blessed Sacrament — an advocacy group looking to protect the integrity of the character of the building while warding off gentrification — said a campaign to save the building in part by adopting a petition to grant it landmark status is now backed by a report by the Boston Landmarks Commission agreeing with him and his fellow FBS members.

Now he hopes that the finding doesn’t interfere with the community-approved Pennrose plan.

The commission report, in its support of preserving the distinctive architecture, states that, “the Church of the Blessed Sacrament and associated parish buildings represent an architecturally significant collection of buildings designed in a variety of period styles.”

It goes on to say that, “the scale of the church and its towering dome and belvedere, along with the massive pedimented façade, contribute to its significance as one of the most important Italian-Renaissance-style Roman Catholic churches in New England.”

According to Pennrose Regional Vice President of New England Charlie Adams, to comply with exterior preservation the firm is tweaking its original design to include arch windows on the first level and a darker exterior and will present this finalized design to the commission at the end of the month.

Adams added that the tweak will also include a non-landmark adjustment — the group’s architect, DiMella Shaffer has switched around the configuration of units per community request.

“They’ve done a really, really good job of listening to the community and responding to the community’s needs,” Adams said.

Smith agrees.

“We were pleased with the presentation last night and the design changes that were made to the church building. And we were especially pleased that the program of affordable housing and community performance space has not changed and is still moving forward,” he said. “And we are going to keep working to make sure that the project has the resources it needs to become a reality and fulfill the community’s vision.”

The Commission will hold its next public hearing virtually on Tuesday, August 23, 2022, at 4 p.m. where they will discuss the Pennrose plan. The next step will be seeking article 80 approval and if all goes well, Pennrose will be looking to move forward with applying for funding as soon as January.