Addition to old Stanton Street convent for condos wins approval

Schematic of proposed condos by Context.

The Zoning Board of Appeal on Tuesday approved a developer's plans to rehab the former St. Matthew convent at 43-45 Stanton St. in Dorchester and add a four-story addition in its rear to create 14 condos.

Two of the units in the new structure, proposed by Ricky Beliveau's Volnay Capital, would be sold as affordable.

The proposal originally went before the board last November, but the board voted then to defer any action to defer any action to give Beliveau and neighbors more time to try to reach agreement on the size of the project and parking issues.

At today's hearing, Beliveau's attorney, Marc LaCasse said Beliveau and his architect made a number of changes, including reducing the number of parking spaces from 19 to 16, which meant they could be put in the rear of the building, rather than reusing the current street-side front parking lot - which will now instead by a landscaped area with a walkway to the building's main entrance. To satisfy BPDA planners, he said, the design of the roof of the four-story rear addition was changed from flat to pitched.

Residents who testified, however, said it was not enough and called on Beliveau to eliminate the top floor of the addition completely and go down to eleven units - with two still sold as affordable.

Stanton Street resident Milton Jones said he would like to welcome the new residential units to the neighborhood, but said the addition "sticks out like a sore thumb as it hovers" over nearby homes on a narrow street full of homes like his - built in 1890, with "a historical flair and charm."

"It is not in the best interest of the neighborhood," he said.

LaCasse, though, said Beliveau could not make the project work if he went down to eleven units, because gut renovating a historic convent building into residential units is "an expensive proposition." He added he felt the new roof line is "quite pleasing to the eye" as it leads towards the even taller former St. Matthew's Church - which might itself be converted into housing.

Board member David Aiken asked Beliveau if he had looked at state programs that could help make the project feasible with just eleven units, with two still affordable. Beliveau said he would look again, but said that state affordable-housing grant programs tend to take a long time to get through and tend to be more focused on developers larger than his company.

In addition to concern about the height of the rear addition, Alice Nelson said she was also concerned that the driveway to the rear would be only nine feet wide - one foot less than the minimum called for by the Boston Transportation Department.

Beliveau's architect, Eric Zachrison, said the driveway actually meets the city standard except for where it passes between a side property line and the existing chapel, which sticks out from the resit of the convent and forms "a pinch point." He said it seemed to make more sense to narrow the driveway at that point rather than to take down part of the building.

Through an aide, City Councilor Brian Worrell supported the revised project, saying Beliveau had worked to compromise with both residents and the BPDA, which had called for more of a pitched roof on the rear addition.

Board member Katie Whewell moved to approve the proposal, which required variances because it did not meet its lot's zoning for, among other things, amount of parking, for being a multifamily building, for having a higher than allowed "floor to area ratio" and for being too tall - four stories and 45 feet tall rather than 2.5 stores and 35 feet tall. She said she was happy to see the original convent building kept in place and that Beliveau was able to work with the BPDA on the roof issue.

Board members voted 5-2 to approve the project. Aiken and Alan Langham voted against.


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