The Republican - Massachusetts
Masons buying church if zoning can be changed
Thursday, October 09, 2008
By DAVID BERGENGREN
AGAWAM - Grace Baptist Church is seeking a zone change for its property at 475 Pine St. to pave the way for its purchase by the Masonic Lodge of Springfield.
Rezoning the 2.66 acres that abuts the town line with Suffield, Conn. - which includes a 7,128-square-foot church building constructed in 1995 - from Agricultural to Residential B will require a "yes" vote from at least eight of the 11 city councilors.
City Council referred the request to its Zoning Review Subcommittee Monday. The subcommittee will make a recommendation to the full council, which has scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at Agawam Middle School.
The Planning Board, which will also make a recommendation, will hold a public hearing on the request Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Agawam Public Library.
"I haven't done any (research on it) at all yet," said Zoning Review Subcommittee Chairwoman Jill S. Messick Tuesday, declining to comment on the request until she had looked into it further.
Director of Planning and Community Development Deborah S. Dachos said that under state law religious institutions are virtually exempt from zoning regulations, but said the regulations come into play once another use is proposed.
"I haven't reviewed it yet," said Dachos, who serves as an adviser to the Planning Board when it reviews such requests.
Church Pastor Carmen A. Rizzo said the rezoning, so that the church can sell the church building and land to the Masonic Lodge of Springfield, is important to the church's finances.
In January of last year, in need of more space, Grace Baptist purchased the former East Congregational Church at 60 Bowles Road in Springfield and moved its operations back to the city where it was founded in 1935, Rizzo said.
The Masonic Lodge has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the 475 Pine St. property for $495,000, contingent on approval of the requested zone change, he said. That money would be used to pay down the "sizable" mortgage on the church Grace Baptist bought last year, he said.
The potential impact on residents who live near 475 Pine St. should be negligible, Rizzo said. "Basically, (the Masons) would just use it as a meeting hall," he said. "Probably their impact (on the neighborhood) would be less than what ours was."...