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More than 60 residents petition Brookline to reject Mormon church design

Posted by Brock Parker  March 19, 2010 08:02 AM

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More than 60 people are petitioning Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals to reject the design for a new meetinghouse proposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In an open letter to the board obtained by the Globe, the residents said they do not dispute that the Mormons have the right to build a meeting house at 603 Boylston Street and worship freely.

But the letter states that the size of the proposed meetinghouse is far too big for the lot, which is slightly larger than an acre.

“If [the Latter-day Saints] 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,” the letter stated. “If the Zoning Board of Appeals approves [the Mormon’s] request for zoning relief, it will set a terrible precedent.”

The church will need a special permit from Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals, in part because the meetinghouse is larger than local zoning laws allow. The building would be 33 feet tall with a 72-foot steeple, and would have underground parking for about 150 vehicles and an entrance off Boylston Street, also known as Route 9.

The church has said it needs the new meeting house to ease overcrowding at other chapels in the Boston area, where every Sunday separate services are held for up to three congregations.

The zoning board will hold a hearing on the proposal March 25 in Brookline Town Hall at 7 p.m.

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Gerry Oster, who lives in the Fisher Hill Estates neighboring the site of the proposed meetinghouse, said he’s hoping that the number of people who signed onto the letter will resonate with the zoning board.

“This is not just about one or two disgruntled people wanting to let off some steam,” He said.

Julie Berry, a spokeswoman for the church’s Boston stake, which is akin to a diocese, said the church sympathizes with the neighbors concerns. But Berry said part of the reason the church must seek a special permit is because it has already agreed to build a parking garage to appease neighbors. The parking structure is expensive, and adds several thousand square feet of space to the meetinghouse design, she said.

The meetinghouse design has already garnered the support of Brookline's Planning Board, and Berry said the church is now waiting for the outcome of the hearing with the zoning board to determine the next steps.

Oster said residents who signed the open letter were paying for it to run as an advertisement in the “Brookline Tab.”

For more coverage of Brookline, go to boston.com/brookline.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

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