Islamic Society parking agreement approved

The former  First Congregational Church on 177 North Main Street in Concord. The building has been sold and will be converted into housing units.

The former First Congregational Church on 177 North Main Street in Concord. The building has been sold and will be converted into housing units. GEOFF FORESTER

The former  First Congregational Church on 177 North Main Street in Concord. The building has been sold and will be converted into housing units.

The former First Congregational Church on 177 North Main Street in Concord. The building has been sold and will be converted into housing units. GEOFF FORESTER

The imam speaks to worshipers at the Concord Islamic Society’s mosque shortly after it opened on Main Street in 2018.

The imam speaks to worshipers at the Concord Islamic Society’s mosque shortly after it opened on Main Street in 2018. Monitor file

Jonathan Chorlian is looking to convert the former First Congregational Church on North Main Street in Concord into housing units.

Jonathan Chorlian is looking to convert the former First Congregational Church on North Main Street in Concord into housing units. Monitor file

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 02-08-2024 5:26 PM

The Greater Islamic Society of Concord will likely drop its lawsuit against the city after reaching an agreement with the developers looking to transform the old First Congregational Church received approval from the zoning board Wednesday night.

“We continued discussions with the Islamic Society seeking a resolution which would allow our project to move forward with their support and would help to address their concerns – particularly their lack of parking. Ali Sekou deserves a lot of credit for that effort,” Jonathan Chorlian, one of two owners of the church property, said in a written comment.

After some back-and-forth, the zoning board approved Chorlian and Ben Kelley’s plans to turn the old Church at 177 North Main Street into 30 one- and two-bedroom apartments last year. During that process, the Islamic Society expressed concerns about how the plans would impact parking availability for its growing membership. The group asked for a rehearing to express concern after the project’s plans changed and were denied, according to the lawsuit filed suit against the city.

Sekou, as president of the Islamic Society, said the objections were with the approval process, not with Kelley and Chorlian’s project.

The language is not yet finalized and the new plans await a final sign-off by the planning board in March, but as part of their agreement, the suit against the city will be withdrawn, Brian Shaughnessy, a lawyer representing the Islamic Society, confirmed.

Under the new plans, a portion of what is currently lawn on the northern edge of the church property will be sold to the Islamic Society, which plans to put 12 additional parking spaces along their existing North Main Street driveway. The reconfiguration also shaves seven residential spaces off of the original 49 spots approved by the city, necessitating a final sign-off on the plan.

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Kelley and Chorlian bought the old First Congregational Church in with a vision to restore and convert it into apartment units. Both have previously taken on similar projects in Concord — including Chorlian’s redevelopment of Sacred Heart Church.

They needed special permission from the zoning board to have fewer parking spaces than allowed by city code. The project initially sought to include 34 units but was scaled to 30 units this summer.

During that process, the Islamic Society, which neighbors the old church, had concerns. In the past, when the church had held services, an agreement existed between the two organizations to share parking. Later, when the church was used as a cold-weather shelter by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, the Islamic Society was still able to park overflow cars there during its busy hours, including weekly services on Fridays.

The land sale and additional spaces will help relieve the parking pinch, Sekou said in a letter to the board. Chorlian noted that it also improves the Mosque’s presence and accessibility from North Main Street.

The new arrangement means the apartments will have 42 spots for 30 units. They were confident the first time around that there would be sufficient resident parking, Chorlian told the zoning board members. That remains true.

“I’ve no interest in building out the site and not having enough parking. I’m completely confident that 42 is enough,” he said.

The board was unanimous in approving the amended plans: while some of the details had changed, the reasoning to support the project remained constant.

When the board previously signed off, “we scrutinized it very carefully,” board member Andrew Winters said. “I don’t think that seven spot difference materially impacts our reasoning from before.”

“I am grateful to both parties for their leadership and open mind, and for putting their interests aside and looking at the community at large,” Sekou said in an interview. He said he was proud that they had found a solution that worked for everyone.

Once the new round of approvals is completed, construction at the church is expected to start this spring and last about a year.