Planners hear pitch for reuse of historic church in Holyoke

  • Originally the First Congregational Church, with an 1893 cornerstone, the former Grace United Church of Christ building at 474 Pleasant Street in Holyoke is owned by the United Congregational Church of Holyoke. The Romanesque Revival church, at the southeast corner of Pleasant and Hampden streets, is now known as the Robinson Center and described on the UCC website list of facilities as “a variety of spaces for non-profit groups seeking longer term rental space to grow.” Photographed on Monday, June 27, 2022. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Originally the First Congregational Church, with an 1893 cornerstone, the former Grace United Church of Christ building at 474 Pleasant Street in Holyoke is owned by the United Congregational Church of Holyoke. The Romanesque Revival church, at the southeast corner of Pleasant and Hampden streets, is now known as the Robinson Center and described on the UCC website list of facilities as “a variety of spaces for non-profit groups seeking longer term rental space to grow.” Photographed on Monday, June 27, 2022. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Originally the First Congregational Church, with an 1893 cornerstone, the former Grace United Church of Christ building at 474 Pleasant Street in Holyoke is owned by the United Congregational Church of Holyoke. The Romanesque Revival church, at the southeast corner of Pleasant and Hampden streets, is now known as the Robinson Center and described on the UCC website list of facilities as “a variety of spaces for non-profit groups seeking longer term rental space to grow.” Photographed on Monday, June 27, 2022. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2022 9:48:58 PM
Modified: 6/29/2022 9:46:21 PM

HOLYOKE — The owner of Indian Motorcycle of Springfield was in front of city officials Tuesday to present his idea to turn a historic Highlands church on the corner of Pleasant and Hampden streets into a museum, restaurant and motorcycle dealership.

The Planning Board and the City Council’s Ordinance Committee all reacted positively to a project proposed by Dennis Bolduc, who has agreed to purchase the United Congregational Church of Holyoke’s brick-and-brownstone, Romanesque Revival church built in 1894. His offer, however, is contingent on the City Council changing the parcel’s zoning from residential to business-highway, and officials questioned Tuesday whether there are other ways to ensure the project moves forward without a business-highway zone.

In a phone interview ahead of the public hearing, Bolduc said he wants to build a restaurant and motorcycle dealership at the church, where he would also display his large collection of Indian motorcycles and other historical items built in the Pioneer Valley. His idea, he said, would be to create an experience that would draw in tourists and others.

“I hate it when I see these big old churches get knocked down,” he said, vowing to preserve and improve the building. “They need to be preserved and you can’t just preserve it as a museum because you need some kind of income stream.”

Several neighbors spoke out in favor of Bolduc’s project, as did church officials, who view his proposal as a great use for the building, which they acquired more than two decades ago during a merger with another church.

“For me I think the most important piece is the possibility of being able to save the church,” said At-large Councilor Israel Rivera, who called the proposal — “an awesome project.”

Other councilors and Planning Board members shared that opinion, though some expressed concerns that business-highway zoning would allow some future uses of the property that might not be appealing to the city or abutters.

Planning Board member Mimi Panitch, who said it is a “fabulous project,” suggested that the City Council could instead allow the project through the use of a special permit, ensuring that if Bolduc’s project fell through, another business couldn’t come in and use the business-highway zoning to put an undesirable project on the parcel.

“Zoning is about use and not a project,” fellow Planning Board member Kate Kruckemeyer said, agreeing with Panitch. “But making it a special permit could make it about the project.”

That idea sat well with some other officials, though At-large Councilor José Maldonado Velez said that the City Council already deals with too many special permits and that he prefers to take care of the issue through a zone change, noting that there are some other parcels zoned business-highway several blocks away.

“We’re all in favor of this project but we agree with a lot that we’ve heard here,” said neighbor Robin Siniaho, whose house is located just down Pleasant Street from the church. “We would prefer that it’s done by special permit instead of a (business-highway) zoning just in case the project falls apart.”

Addressing some concerns raised during the hearing, Bolduc noted that modern motorcycles are not any louder than other vehicles, with Ward 4 Councilor Kocayne Givner — herself a biker — adding that motorcycles are loud when people put after-market, often illegal parts on them.

Bolduc said that he has looked at other properties nearby, including Mel’s Restaurant next door, as part of his project. So far, though, he’s focused just on the church property. The church is directly across the street from a relatively new Dunkin’ Donuts and former PeoplesBank diagonally across the intersection. 

Ultimately, the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee decided to continue the public hearing to their next meeting on July 26, at which point they will get answers to some questions from the city’s legal department.

Planning Board Chair John Kelley, appearing at his last Planning Board meeting after some two decades of service, urged Bolduc to stay with the project as city officials figure out the best way to get it done.

“Let’s make this happen,” he said. “It can take a little patience, a little time, but this is a win-win for all involved.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

Jobs



Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy