By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,265)
The city council voted unanimously, (9 – 0 ), this evening to approve the St. Lawrence Arts Center’s application to modify an existing agreement with the city to permit the construction of a contemporary performance center af 76 Congress Street on Munjoy Hill. What should have been a slam dunk for the popular non-profit became controversial because of the opposition by the “Concerned Citizens”; founded by Hill resident, Ralph Carmona and his wife, Vanna.
Four years ago, the city approved an application from the Arts Center to build an addition to replace the 500-seat sanctuary torn down in 2008 because of its prdvious collapse. However, the effort to duplicate the sanctuary proved too costly to build; Hence, the contemporary design was created; the architect is David Lloyd, a Hill resident. A significant consideration in the amended plan was a creative transportation plan designed to alleviate parking concerns in the area. The required transportation plan relies heavily on the use of the METRO bus system. Opponents of the Arts Center question whether or not theater goers will change their behavior enough to use the bus system. The idea to involve METRO in the transportation plan was supported by District 1 City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who also serves on its board. This affiliation was called a “conflict of interest” by one of the opponents who recommended that Councilor Donoghue recuse himself from the vote.
Bill Milliken, the founding executive director for the non-profit St. Lawrence reminded councilors that the neighborhood surrounding the arts center has changed dramatically since its inception. Milliken, an attorney and downtown businessman, told the council that what is now the “Front Room” restaurant was a boarded up building. Critics of the idea project asked “how can you do something in that run down neighborhood?” It has been instrumental in re-energizing the Hill and making it what it is today Milliken said. Councilor Costa said that this is a highly visible parcel of land and a “parcel that will be developed somehow.”
In 1993, Diedre Nice, current executive director purchased the former Congregational Church from Steve Sunenblick, who had purchased the building from the church. In 1997, Nice sold the property to the non-profit. Then in 2006, the 500-seat sanctuary portion of the property collapsed. In 2008, it was torn down and some parts of it were buried in the same ground on which it used to stand. The applicant needs to go back to the planning board as well as the Historic Preservation board for approvals on this historic property.
In other east end related news on the council’s agenda was its approval of a rezoning request by Redfern Properties for the property currently occupied by 3G’s Tire and Auto Service at 89 Anderson Street. Despite concerns of local residents, the council approved this request unanimously. Jonathan Culley said he expects to go before the planning board for site plan approval in January and a closing date on the property is set for May of 2015. Culley is the developer of Munjoy Heights, a high-end condominium development that has sold 22 of its 29 units.
The council also gave its approval for the creation of a Community Garden on the Eastern Promenade near the tennis courts. Craig Lapind, of Cultivating Community said that there is a 135-person waiting list for the community gardens. The majority of those have a zip code of 04101 – the Hill area. While the creation of 40 more plots will ease the waiting list, it will not eliminate it.