Panel pushes hearing on St. John Cantius Church to January

  • St. John Cantius Church on Hawley Street in Northampton, seen in July 2021. Visible at left are the Hawley Manor townhouses, under construction on the site of the church’s former rectory and parish hall. FILE PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2021 5:28:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The committee tasked with deciding the fate of St. John Cantius Church agreed Tuesday night to delay a public hearing on the matter until January.

The Central Business Architecture Committee approved a request from the owner of the vacant church at 10 Hawley St., O’Connell Development Group, to continue the hearing on its demolition permit for 60 days.

O’Connell, a Holyoke-based company, submitted an application in February to demolish the church and hopes to build townhomes similar to the Hawley Manor development under construction on the site of the former rectory and parish hall.

The company argues that restoring the church is too expensive to be worthwhile. Restoring the building would cost more than $1 million, O’Connell has told the committee, and tenants would need to pay extremely high rent in order for any project to break even.

More than 1,500 people have signed a Change.org petition that seeks to stop the demolition of the church that was built by Polish immigrants. The effort gained the attention of Adrian Kubicki, a Polish diplomat based in New York who wrote a letter to Mayor David Narkewicz in July calling for “a prudent and farsighted decision that will save the historical artifact [for] future generations.”

Supporters of saving the church claim that it is not fit for demolition — meaning that it is not structurally or functionally obsolete, as O’Connell believes — and the church can be reused at a lower cost.

The group Friends of St. John Cantius is working with Bill Kraus, a Connecticut developer with a preference for historical preservation, to propose ideas for new uses. In a July letter to the Central Business Architecture Committee, Kraus said he was “impressed” with the church’s “condition and development potential.”

O’Connell, meanwhile, has submitted photos of cracked exterior bricks, deteriorated window framework, falling plaster, materials containing asbestos throughout the boiler room, moisture damage and water infiltration through the outer walls.

The committee in April voted 3-1 to deny the demolition permit and asked O’Connell for more detailed drawings of the planned townhouses. One voting member has since left the board; three members are recused from considering the application due to conflicts of interest, leaving three members to vote.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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