A developer has proposed buying the historic Concord Baptist Church, in Boston’s South End neighborhood, and turning it into condominium homes.

If renovated as planned, there will be a total of nine condos across four (or five?) floors of space – these homes will be absolutely HUGE, from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet of space. Several floors will have ceiling heights approaching 20 feet (I didn’t take notes, so don’t quote me).

The proposal has been met with support by members of the community (including the Pilot Block Neighborhood Association), although some residents, namely those whose homes abut the property, have expressed concerns.

Their biggest problem with what is being proposed seems to be that the developer has requested changing the exterior of the building by putting windows along the back of the church, where the pastor’s pulpit is located. The need for windows there is obvious – you can’t have condos without windows, and if you plan on breaking up the units logically, you ‘ll need to have several units along the back – creating the necessity for windows. (Units on this floor will have soaring ceiling heights, with the entire window areas within each unit, unlike in other conversions, where most developers add a floor halfway up the window …)

Adding a row of windows along the back would certainly change the original design of the building, but the abutters main concern is that their new neighbors will be able to look in the back windows of their homes, and onto their back patios and balconies.

Imagine!

As you can probably guess, I think that this is one of the silliest arguments against an urban development.

What is especially galling to me is that there is a definite conflict of interest on the part of most of the project’s critics. Many are also members of the South End Historical Society, which has a self-defined role of protecting the neighborhood’s “historic character”.

In my opinion, these neighbors’ concerns about irretrievably damaging the architecture and design of the historic church cannot be separated by the obvious self-interests of those most affected by whatever is built on the site. (I keep saying “built” but I mean renovated … there are no plans to tear down the church.)

The developer is proposing to add more dormers to the third floor of the condo project. There are currently nine dormers on this level (I think); he would add nine, twelve, twenty more, in order to add light to each unit. How this would look is an unknown. It could fit in nicely, or it could make the building look like a mother-ship with pods-dormers coming out from underneath it.

Neighbors are also concerned about parking. The developer has a simple solution – he is going to add below-ground parking spots, accessible by car-elevator off Warren Ave. (Might I also add, the effect on the neighborhood of having nine new homeowners is significantly less than what happens currently, where the area is overwhelmed by churchgoers, who cause traffic jams and park haphazardly on Warren Ave, flaunting the law, every Sunday.)

To help you understand more about the developer’s proposal and why some people are against modifications to the exterior of the church, I went out and took some photos with my camera phone.

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Well, the above photo isn’t from my camera phone. It is a MS Live photo of the area immediately around the church. This is at the corners of West Brookline Street and Warren Ave. To the right are rowhouses on West Canton Street.

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This is a better aerial view of the church and streets. What you should take note of is the apparent distance between the church and the abutters to the rear of the church – these are the homeowners on West Canton Street.

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I picked a random street in the South End, to give you an idea of the average proximity of rowhouses to one another. Here is Tremont Street, between Milford and Dwight streets. Compare the distance between the rears of the buildings to that of the church and the buildings on West Canton.

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The developer has proposed using this entrance on Warren Ave as the entrance to the parking spaces, which would be below ground. Owners would drive their cars in and take an elevator down to their spots.

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Two sides of the building have windows of similar size and design. The other two sides have the same design, but there are no windows. There are no windows on one side presumably because it is about 4-feet from the building next door, on West Brookline. The other wall, the one facing the back of West Canton, does not have windows because it is the “back” of the church – where the pulpit is located and where the pastor gives his sermons.

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Another view of the windows.

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Turning a church into condos is no easy feat. The interior of the church is something like 80 feet high (I made that up). The developer will add three floors (or four) inside. Toward the top, he is proposing adding more dormers so that there is more light on that level, in each condo unit.

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In order to be able to show the distance between the two buildings, I had to cross Warren Ave to the other side. What you are seeing here is the church to the right and the backsides of the rowhouses on West Canton.

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