Old Ship Church Explores New Plans For Parish House
By Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff; September 28, 2020
Hingham Current News File Photo / Kristen Arute
For years, Old Ship Church has been looking for solutions to the problems they are having with maintaining the Parish House across the street. The church has wanted to sell and use the proceeds to build a new Parish House next to the Meetinghouse. Global Property Developers had put in a proposal for high-density residential development. However, that deal fell through after the project received opposition from the public. The list price of $4.8M was somewhat prohibitive for other use, in particular given the condition of the property, so one option that was considered was to subdivide the lot into two parcels and sell off the back section to the Affordable Housing Trust so that it could be combined with the Lincoln School Apartments property. Conversation on the topic has been largely silent until recently.
In a letter from the Old Ship Church Board of Trustees dated September 26th, an update on recent activity was shared with parishioners. The church had held two "parish conversations" over the summer, and their Buildings & Grounds Committee had compiled a list of master costs. The Committee determined that it would cost nearly $1.47 million to stabilize the parish house.
Both the study and a revisiting of the topic of selling the Parish House appear to be timed around recent interest in the property. "After we took the parish house off the market, we received a few inquiries from interested parties," read the letter. "During the spring we were approached by another party who requested time to do a feasibility study to see whether or not he wanted to make an offer." The bidder said that he would need approximately three months to do his research and would share his findings with the Board. "Last week he forwarded his findings and a proposal," the letter continued. "The Board believes it is our fiduciary duty to share it with the parish."
Over the next week, the Board will be holding two parish meetings via Zoom to discuss the proposal. The first will be on Thursday, October 1st at 6:30 p.m. The second will be on Saturday, October 3rd at 10:00 a.m. A special parish meeting will then be held on Tuesday, October 13th where the proposals for staying and repairing or selling and building will be taken up for a vote. "As a congregation, we have major financial decisions to make.," said the Trustees in their letter. "We have a serious proposal to consider for selling the parish house and building across the street. It is time for us to make a decision that will support the future of Old Ship."
However, neighbors of the church were surprised to learn of this news through social media. "I am a direct abutter and was not notified nor any of my neighbors," said one. A group called "ProHingham" was started by Marisa Ronan and other community members several years ago in response to concerns over the prospect of high-density development of the Old Ship Parish House property that would not conform to the existing single family zoning and historic bylaws. Ronan noted that the church has not communicated with abutters "since Global Property Developers was trying to put a deal together, which was several years ago."
A member of the Old Ship Board of Trustees responded on social media to concerns that were expressed. "We understand and appreciate that people in town care about the future of our parish house. It is a treasured part of Lower Main St., and it needs continual care," said Nina Wellford. "After working months to plan for what needs to be done to repair and keep the parish house in good condition, we’ve determined that the cost is extremely high. Based on this information, and unsolicited interest from a potential buyer, as soon as we have any definitive plans, we will share those ideas with neighbors and the town, and will welcome your response."
In the most recent Community Preservation Committee (CPC) meeting, Judy Sneath suggested that this was the year to finally "fully fund" the request made by the Affordable Housing Trust. The Community Preservation Act (CPA) requires a minimum of 10% of the Town's CPA tax collections be allocated to affordable housing, which is why the Affordable Housing Trust (AHT) receives approximately $100,000 each year. The AHT regularly asks CPC for $800,000 for its Opportunity Fund which allows them to respond to real estate opportunities. Some properties, like the Whiting Street property, are donated to the Trust. Speculation about their interest in this property continues to exist; however, Old Ship has not revealed who the potential buyer is.
The Old Ship Parish House is a historic property that lies within the Bachelors Row/Pear Tree Hill Local Historic District. This District is zoned for residential use. Any plans to deviate from the zoned use, like for the purposes of constructing high-density housing, could only be done through a proposal for a 40B development or through a proposal to change the zoning of the district. Any zoning change would need to be approved by Town Meeting.