Church renovation moves forward, more residential housing 

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 09-21-2023 4:16 PM

Local developers Jonathan Chorlian and Ben Kelley were given the green light night to move ahead with plans to renovate a historic church in downtown Concord into residential housing. 

“I am here with other residents of Rollins Court, which is another one of Chorlian’s projects, and we are very much in favor of this project,” resident Nick Holmes told the Planning Board Wednesday night. “We think the design is visionary, we love the increased green space and the architectural touches and I think it’s a great way to preserve this historic building.”

The First Congregational Church at 177 North Main Street will undergo nearly $6 million in renovations as Chorlian and Kelley tear down the interior of the 26,000-square-foot building to accommodate 30 market-rate units consisting of one- and two-bedroom, pet-friendly units starting at $1,400 a month, Chorlian said in an interview with the Monitor in July. Parking will be available for residents on adjacent properties to be acquired as part of the project, and green space and landscaping will be added. 

The deconsecrated church was last owned by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, which used it as a cold-weather homeless shelter until April. It was purchased by the nonprofit in 2020 for $800,000, primarily to offer expanded winter shelter access and eventually to provide more permanent housing to the city’s homeless. However, conversion of the property proved costly and the coalition’s plans for the space changed, leading to the decision to sell.

Future plans for the building show the exterior of the brick church will remain largely unchanged aside from the front entrance, where the wooden doors will be removed and replaced with glass paneling, and the bow windows on the annex, the oldest portion of the building still standing, will be reconfigured.

Over the front entrance, a deck will be installed that will serve as a major outdoor community space for tenants. Additional outdoor changes will include enlarging windows for the infiltration of natural light and the installation of small outdoor patios. 

The final approval is contingent upon the resolution of concerns expressed by the planning and engineering departments. If the project is not completed within the year, the developers will need to go back before board members to request an extension on their approval. 

One contingency to widen a portion of the sidewalk along Washington Street to allow for city plowing was waived when Chorlian explained his plans for private snow removal. Additionally, the applicants requested two conditional use permits to allow offsite parking and to construct fewer parking spaces than required, both of which were approved. 

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Last month, the property received nearly $400,000 in property tax breaks from the city of Concord to ease its conversion into market-rate downtown housing. As part of the redevelopment of the property, the developers asked City Council to approve a seven-year tax exemption for the renovation because of the public benefit it will have. 

City councilors agreed the project met the threshold for tax exemption by enhancing the economic vitality of downtown, improving a structure that is culturally and historically important, promoting the preservation and reuse of a historic structure, and increasing residential housing in an urban center. Over the next seven years, the city estimates it will receive $393,411 less in taxes. 

The current church was built in 1937 and expanded in 1967. Other structures dating back to the 1700s had either burned or been replaced.

Both Chorlian and Kelley have been involved in multiple redevelopment projects in Concord, including the preservation and redevelopment of Sacred Heart Church, the demolition of St. Peters Church to make way for new condominiums, the redevelopment of the former Concord OB/GYN building on North Main Street and the redevelopment and sale of a commercial building at 6 Loudon Road. 

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