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Opposition growing against design for Mormon church in Brookline

Posted by Brock Parker  April 9, 2010 10:36 AM

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Several state legislators and dozens of town meeting members have signed on to a letter petitioning Brookline officials to reject the design of a proposed Mormon chapel on Route 9.

“It’s not good planning,” said state Rep. Frank Smizik, who has signed the letter along with fellow Brookline legislators State Sen. Cynthia Creem and state Rep. Mike Rush.

In the open letter to the board obtained by the Globe, the residents said they do not dispute that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has 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.

Smizik said he, too, is concerned that the proposed meeting house is too big for the small lot, and he said the proposal will force too many changes on the neighborhood.

Julie Berry, a spokeswoman for the church’s Boston stake, which is akin to a diocese, said the legislators are welcome to voice their concerns. But she said the church is pressing forward with the proposal, which will come before Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday, April 15.

“It’s the zoning board’s decision to make,” Berry said.

The church will need a special permit from the zoning board, 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.

To clear the lot for the proposed meeting house, the church has demolished a multi-million dollar home in recent weeks.

But neighbors and a growing number of other Brookline residents are urging the zoning board not to grant the special permits for the meeting house.

Gerry Oster, who lives in Fisher Hill Estates next to the proposed meetinghouse, said more than 450 people have now signed onto the letter in opposition to the design.

Gill Fishman, one of about 80 Brookline Town Meeting members who’ve signed the letter, said the church should revisit the design and decrease the size of the proposed meeting house, which he said will “tower over Route 9.”

Fishman, who lives in the Fisher Hill area where the meeting house would be built, said many of the Town Meeting members who have signed onto the letter are concerned about the precedent the proposed meeting house could set for future development.

“People are very concerned about overbuilding in town and getting away with it,” he said.

Smizik said he’s also concerned with the vehicle entrance and exit for the meetinghouse on Route 9 because it is a “major highway.”

The church moved the proposed entrance and exit to Route 9 to address concerns from neighbors about cars entering the site via Caitlin Road. Berry said the church also agreed to build a parking garage underground to appease neighbors. But Berry said the additional structure created by the garage is part of the reasons the church must seek a special permit. The parking structure is expensive, and adds several thousand square feet of space to the meetinghouse design, she said.

The hearing on the meeting house proposal Thursday starts at 7 p.m. in Brookline Town Hall.

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