Housing Trust Needs Time To Assess Church Property

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Housing and homelessness , Historic preservation

Protesters hold signs urging the preservation of former Holy Trinity Catholic Church rectory in West Harwich. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH — Affordable housing trust members said they need time to examine if they would have any use for the century-old house the Bishop of Fall River is seeking to have torn down on the Holy Trinity Church property in West Harwich.

A demolition is pending before the historic district and historical commission, which wanted to see if the town’s affordable housing trust might have an interest in moving the Victorian-style house constructed in 1914 before the commission makes a decision on whether to invoke the demolition delay bylaw.

The trust met on Thursday to discuss whether there was interest in relocating the house to use as affordable housing. The church’s spokesperson in the commission’s hearing, Joseph Nolan, a volunteer for the diocese of Fall River and a West Harwich resident, sent a letter to town officials the day before the trust’s meeting offering to contribute toward the cost of moving the building.

“The home would need to be moved to another lot and we would be willing to contribute $20,000, which is the estimated cost of removal,” Nolan’s letter stated.

Nolan said he would be happy to provide trust members with a tour of the home. If possible, Nolan stated, the church would like to have an answer by year’s end, “so we can begin the process of either moving or removing the building.”

Newly voted trust chairman Donald Howell, also a selectman, urged the trust to move cautiously, to make sure they do not make a decision they might regret at a future date. Howell initially suggested the trust recommend the commission invoke the one-year demolition delay bylaw, allowing time for the trust to conduct the research necessary to make a decision on the use of the building. Howell said local house movers should be consulted to get an idea about the cost of doing so.

Trust member Larry Brophy said there are a number of issues to consider, including a potential roadblock in moving the house given its height, which he said is five feet taller than the electric and phone wires reaching across roads. Brophy also said there need to be discussions with neighbors, should the trust find a location for the structure.

Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers said he is looking for town boards and committees to weigh in and suggested the HD&HC should reach out to all of the regulatory boards about a demolition delay.

“It’s not about the demolition delay. We need time and a delay would give us that time,” Howell said.

But Brophy also said the last thing the trust wants to do is put the delay in place for one year, especially if three months down the road it is determined that “we don’t want it.” Brophy suggested sending a letter to the commission stating more time is needed to make a decision but not expressing a timeline.

The trust members also agreed they should write to the diocese explaining they need more time to examine the building and would also like the opportunity to visit the building.

Howell said the trust has the land, assets and money to move it.

“Everyone is dancing around the question here,” Housing Committee Chairman Art Bodin said. “We have the land, money and time. We move houses every day. We have to educate ourselves to what it costs and what it takes.”

“We’re asking for time so we can put all that information together,” trust member Judith Underwood said.

Brophy said he would draft letters to the diocese and to the HD&HC explaining more time is needed to make an assessment on the potential use of the century-old building. The commission had put off a demolition delay bylaw decision to its Dec. 18 meeting to allow the trust to discuss a potential use of the building.