The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a hearing at 7PM Thursday, April 15 at Town Hall, 6th Floor.
The Latter Day Saints (LDS, Mormon Church) have demolished a single family house at 603 Boylston Street and are planning to construct a 22,000 square foot church on the site with a 150-car underground garage. Relief from the Zoning Board of Appeals, however, is needed since zoning allows only a building of approximately 16,000 sf. But demolition, in the permitting process, is distinct from building. LDS was granted a permit to take down the house; they do not yet have a permit to build anything in its place.
Below is a letter signed by residents (including some HSHA neighbors) that ran in the March 18, 2010 edition of the Brookline TAB and was also presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The letter illuminates issues of compliance with our town’s zoning laws.
Concerns linger over planned Mormon chapel (boston.com, February 25, 2010)
Mormon church gets initial approval (Brookline TAB, February 26, 2010)
More than 60 residents petition Brookline (boston.com, March 19, 2010)
Opponents of Mormon church project gather signatures (Brookline TAB, April 9, 2010)
Brookline Chapel (Green Mormon Architect, April 15, 2010)
Zoning Board continues hearing (boston.com, April 15, 2010)
Brookline Mormon church hearing postponed (Brookline TAB, April 16, 2010)
Mormon church plan approved by Brookline zoning board (Brookline TAB, April 30, 2010)
To the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals:
The Mormon Church (“LDS”) has begun construction on a new meetinghouse at 603 Boylston Street, across from the Brookline Reservoir. The structure will be massive — more than 22,000 square feet, not including a 150-car underground garage with entry and exit from Route 9, towering almost 50 feet over Route 9 not including the steeple. The issues that surround this proposal are of tremendous concern to us, and we respectfully urge the Zoning Board of Appeals to reject LDS’s application for zoning relief at its upcoming March 25th public meeting at Town Hall. Contrary to the views of some people, this is not about LDS’s ability to worship freely by building a meetinghouse on this site. None of us disputes that LDS has such a right. Rather, the issue centers around the size of the meetinghouse that LDS should be allowed to build at this particular location.
By right — that is, under our Zoning By-Laws — LDS is entitled to construct a building at this particular location totaling 16,388 square feet. This amount includes a “bonus” that they are entitled to because of the so-called “Dover Amendment,” which stipulates that towns shall not unreasonably restrict the rights of educational and religious institutions to build where they want. Unhappy with 16,388 square feet, however, LDS wants to construct a meetinghouse at this location totaling 22,422 square feet, or 37% above the maximum allowable under the Brookline Zoning By-Laws.
While the Dover Amendment accords certain rights and protections to religious and educational institutions, it also allows towns to require that these institutions meet reasonable zoning regulations regarding height, setbacks from abutters, and density (as measured by floor-area ratio, or FAR), to name only a few. The test of reasonableness is whether compliance with a town’s zoning requirements effectively would prevent a religious or educational institution from fulfilling its basic mission. LDS has not made any showing that it could not fulfill its basic mission if it attempted to comply with our Zoning By-Laws, and therefore that the Zoning Board of Appeals should sweep aside our zoning regulations in a manner that would effectively open the door to over-building throughout our Town.
LDS has said that it should be granted relief from the Brookline Zoning By-Laws for a few reasons. Here are some of their reasons — and why their reasoning in each instance is faulty:
(1) LDS maintains that a key reason why their FAR exceeds the lot size maximum is because of the so-called “ceiling-height multiplier” that exists within the Brookline Zoning By-Laws. Ceilings above 12′ in height must factor into the calculation of FAR as additional floor area — in other words, a 20′ x 20′ room with a 24′ high ceiling counts the same as two 20′ x 20′ rooms each with a 12′ high ceiling. LDS is saying that the multiplier was never intended to apply to places of worship, because everyone knows that most places of worship have high ceilings. Our response to LDS is simple. If the ceiling-height multiplier was never intended to apply to places of worship, then Town Meeting would have exempted them explicitly from this rule. In fact, it did not. Moreover, it can be argued that the FAR “bonus” that religious and educational institutions get under the Brookline Zoning By-Laws gives them additional allowance for rooms with high ceilings. A number of Town Meeting members who were involved in the drafting and passing of this amendment to the Zoning By-Laws several years ago have stated that this issue was discussed, and that failure to exempt religious and educational institutions from this requirement was not an oversight. The Brookline Zoning By-Laws are clear on this point. High ceilings count in the calculation of FAR; they are not exempt when they are in schools or religious institutions. The job of the Zoning Board of Appeals is to apply the reading of the Brookline Zoning By-Laws to this case. If it does, it will find that LDS cannot simply ignore high ceilings in the calculation of allowable FAR.
(2) LDS has argued that it should be allowed to construct a building of the size proposed because that is the average size of its meetinghouses nationally. Yet LDS has not provided any facts or data to substantiate its contention that this is the case. But even if it can and does provide such data, this does not make the proposed building “right-sized” on this particular parcel. When LDS first presented its plans to the Town more than two years ago at a meeting of the Planning Board, it stated that its participation in the meeting was voluntary and that it could construct a 22,000 square foot building “by right”. We now know, however, that LDS misrepresented what it could construct by right; the proposed building is much larger than the maximum allowed. If LDS indeed thought that it could construct a building this big on this site, then it suggests that it mistakenly purchased a parcel too small for its needs. LDS’s mistake should not be Brookline’s problem to solve. If the Zoning Board of Appeals approves LDS’s request for zoning relief, it will set a terrible precedent. Such a decision, in effect, would say to every other educational and religious institution in our Town — of which there are more than 100 — you really don’t need to pay attention to our Zoning By-Laws and the protections that they afford our residents and taxpayers. If the Zoning Board of Appeals approves LDS’s request to overbuild on this parcel, how can it reasonably deny the next applicant who comes along and wants to do the same thing somewhere else? The implications of such a decision would be far-reaching and profound.
That is why we are urging Brookline residents to come out and be heard on this matter at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, March 25th [rescheduled to April 15th] at 7 PM at Town Hall. We believe the issue is of critical importance to the future of our Town.
Charles and Kitty Ames
Joseph Biederman & Helen Charlupski
Jody & Elias Dow
Alan Einhorn & Suzanne Salamon
Murray, Jane, & Aaron Eisenberg
Harry K. Friedman
Paula K. Friedman
Bruce & Georgia Johnson
Andrea Dow Keough
Stanley D. Klein
Louise and Lewis Lipsitz
Diane & Michael McGrath
Shaari & Neuman Mittel
Gerry Oster & Lydia Baumrind
Carolyn & Georges Peter
Susan L. Porter
Daniel Ruberman & Ann Borst
John & Paula Sinclair
Jim and Barbara Spencer