The Town Council approved a zoning change for St. Patrick’s Church so it would have a better chance of leasing its former parish school.
The proposal to create a Religious/School Overlay District was approved on Tuesday night. The new zoning will allow more uses for the property, while the same time preserve the current buildings, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon.
“The Parish is having difficulty leasing the school building,” Magoon said. “It was a day care center and was a significant source of revenue for the church.”
It appears that St. Patrick’s is close to signing a lease for another school to come into the space, but they pursued the zoning change anyway. The new zoning will allow retail uses, including restaurants. Residential was already allowed because it is in a Two-Family Zone.
Some neighbors of the church, which is on Main Street, almost across from Town Hall, contacted the Town Council concerned about the site being redeveloped and bigger buildings going on the site.
The new zoning will actually make that less likely, Magoon said.
“The zoning talks about protecting the character of the existing buildings and the character of the surrounding areas,” Magoon said.
To raze the building to redevelop the property, a special permit would be required. Magoon said the town’s Planning and Zoning Boards would have the tools needed to reject such a proposal.
Council Vice President Steve Corbett said the same zoning was given to the former St. Theresa’s Church, and it preserved the building, if not the church.
“If it were not for the change in zoning it could be torn down,” Corbett said. “It became residential, but the saving the church building was positive for the town.”
Councilor Vincent Piccirilli noted that the church limits who can come into the church.
“Any tenant seeking to use the church building would have to be in keeping with the the teachings of the church,” Piccirilli said. “Not just any business can go into the building.”
Councilor Tony Palomba said if the church does look to provide housing, they could look to add affordable housing.
“One of the greatest needs Watertown has is affordable housing,” he said.
The Council voted 9-0 to approve the Religious/School District Overlay.