HARWICH — Residents of West Harwich made it clear to the historic district and historic commission this past week that they do not want to lose the century-old house that once served as the rectory and later the thrift shop for Holy Trinity Church.
The commission was addressing a notice of intent filed by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Fall River, as owner of the property and Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha as applicant seeking to demolish the Victorian style house located adjacent to the church and constructed in 1914.
Joseph Nolan, who said he was a resident of West Harwich and a volunteer on behalf of the church, told the commission the structure has not been used for five years when the thrift shop was moved across Route 28 and located in the former Catholic school facilities there.
“It needs an upgrade to say the least,” Nolan told the commission, pointing out it has cracks in the beams, making the structure unsound. He said there are septic issues and no place to relocate one and the termites have done a job there. The plan is to demolish the building and plant grass there.
“Overall it’s in very good shape,” responded commission member Robert Doane. “It’s in far better shape than most buildings that come before us.”
Commission member Jeanne Steiner asked if there was any consideration for using the structure for a community outreach facility or some other use that would be beneficial to the community.
Nolan said the former Catholic school site across Route 28 is empty and has plenty of space if people are looking for community space, but, he again, cited the absence of a septic system for this structure. Nolan said the church is willing to make the structure available for $1 for anyone who is willing to move the building. He also said the church cannot afford the maintenance of the building.
But he added, “I don’t think it would make the trip.”
Nolan wanted to know about the demolition delay bylaw, citing the potential for a one year delay if so voted by the commission. Commission chair Mary Maslowski said the time frame could be shortened if the church worked out a deal for use or with someone of interest in moving it.
There was discussion about the potential use by the town’s affordable housing trust. Commission member Brendan Lowney, who is also a member of the trust, said the trust would be meeting on Dec. 5, and the potential use of the structure could be discussed in that meeting. It was suggested this hearing be continued to the historic district and historical commission's Dec. 18 meeting.
Maslowski opened the meeting to public comment and Dan Goodin, who lives in the adjacent condominiums, asked the commission to deny the request for demolition. He also asked the church to be good neighbors and withdraw the application.
Goodin said it is a beautiful, 100-year-old building and he is concerned about the history of the neighborhood and the town. He asked if the church got cost estimates for repairs. He also cited the use of deferred maintenance of buildings as a tool for obtaining permission for demolition.
Lenny Kalback, a resident to the east side of the church, said he has done the electrical work on that building for 40 years, having crawled beneath it a number of times. The electrical wiring there is all new and the old wiring has been disconnected.
“I replaced circuits there and the wiring is pristine in that building. When they say its inferior, that’s not true,” Kalback said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property and it will be missed if gone.”
Sally Urbano said she is concerned about the historic structures in the community. She said somebody in Rome decided to set structures aside, saying this is an important part of history. Urbano said she hoped they could work with a group to find a way to save this one.
Beth Williams, who said she has a 192-year-old building in the Captains’ Row section of West Harwich, said the church needs to be a better neighbor and should not demolish this building.
James Goodin, also an abutter, said he’d like to see the church be a better neighbor and put an effort into saving the building.
“We are saying to the Bishop of the Catholic Church, work with us, help us,” Lou Urbano said. “Driving by, it’s a beautiful house, sell it, fix it. Request weekly offerings in church to get money to fix it.”
John Foley, a deacon in the church, described the building as surplus at a time when the church population is declining. The parish is financially self-sustaining, with barely enough money to address the church and buildings across the street, he said.
He also said if the property were to be subdivided, which he suggested would be unlikely to be approved, there could also be issues with the commonwealth allowing another curb cut along the state road. If the affordable housing trust has a piece of land it would be great if they can move it off this property, he said.
“We’re trying to do the best we can,” Foley said. “We don’t have the money.”
North Road resident Nancy Pollard said money is something we all worry about, but she added the church has let this property go and these issues could have been addressed along the line. She cited the efforts of residents in West Harwich working to save historic homes along Captains’ Row.
“We did over a 100-year-old house and it was not a big deal. Termites, beams and wiring can be fixed,” Pollard said. “Here we go again trying to save another historic part of West Harwich. If you put $100,000 into it, it could be used for a good Christian purpose. Maintain it, it’s a beautiful house.”
Nolan said he does not question Kalback’s comments on the electrical wiring. He did say they had a building inspection done on the structure. He also said they would agree to a continuance for 30 days so the affordable housing trust could consider a potential use. The continuance was extended to the commission’s Dec. 18 meeting.