LACONIA — Efforts to preserve St. Joseph Church took a positive step forward with a preliminary review by city officials of a plan to subdivide the 30 Church Street property into three separate lots.
Nicole Duquette, representing the Diocese of Manchester, told the city’s technical review committee on Wednesday that the proposal is to create separate lots for each of the three buildings on the property: the rectory, the church and the former school. All three lots would share the existing access and exit points and use of the large paved parking lot.
Duquette said the church will be 8.1 feet from the lot lines and the buildings on the two outer lots will be even closer, but noted buildings across the street are nearly on the property line, making the proposal consistent with the area.
The committee is made up of representatives from public works, planning, code enforcement, assessing, the water department, and the fire and police departments.
The water department representative said each lot must have its own water service. The rectory has its own service that had been split over the years to also serve the church and must be disconnected. Back flow prevention devices will also need to be installed at the rectory and the church. The school has previously had the upgrade.
City Planner Dean Trefethen noted that if the subdivision is approved, any change in use of the buildings would require either administrative approval or a site plan amendment. Currently, the use of the rectory is primarily residential, although there is a small office, he said. Were it to become professional offices, for example, an amended site plan would be required.
Assistant Planner Rob Mora said the proposal will advance to the Planning Board for a public hearing and potential approval on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Meanwhile, a subcommittee of the Planning Board is continuing to fine-tune a proposal to create a Historic Overlay District that would include the 30 Church St. property. The intent of such a district is to protect historic buildings and preserve their architectural details.
The Diocese of Manchester has previously applied for a demolition permit for St. Joseph’s Church that remains in place. As a result, the church could still be torn down even if the Historic Overlay District is adopted, as the diocese obtained the permit before the zoning ordinance amendment was proposed, Trefethen said.
The city has assessed the property for $2,801,500. In use as the rectory since 1929, the eight-bedroom, six-bath house was built in 1856 by John Weymouth Busiel. His son, Charles, became Laconia’s first mayor and went on to become governor.
The mansion was named to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1994. According to the nomination, Laconia architect Arthur L. Davis designed the house with a mansard roof house to look like a French villa.
St. Joseph Church was built in 1929. Its predecessor was erected in 1867 on the corner of Lyford and Messer streets. It burned and was rebuilt in 1877. The current church was dedicated in 1930 and was outfitted with the 2.5-ton bell moved from the old church that was later torn down.
The third building on the property, which now has more than 21,000 square feet of space, was most recently home to Holy Trinity School. A stone above the front door bears the date 1924. The private parochial school, which serves about 133 students in grades K-8, has since been moved to the St. Andre Bessette campus at the corner of Union Avenue and Gilford Avenue.
The St. Joseph Catholic Church Preservation Society was founded in response to the diocese’s plan to demolish the church as part of its planned sale of the property. Linda Normandin, who helped found the non-profit preservation group, said their wish is to take over financial responsibility for the church and relieve the parish of that burden. Their goal could be met by having the church designated as a Roman Catholic shrine, oratory or chapel in perpetuity.