Apr 10, 2014

Holyoke commission removes three parish properties from proposed historic district



Staff report
(Iobserve file photos)

SPRINGFIELD – With four members of the seven-member Fairfield Avenue Commission present, the commission voted to remove three church properties from a proposed Polish historic district in the city of Holyoke.

The commission voted to remove the Mater Dolorosa School, a former convent now used for offices, and the Pope John Paul II Social Center from the proposed district, leaving the now-closed Mater Dolorosa Church and 24 other residential and commercial properties on the southern part of Holyoke’s Lyman Street in the district.

Fairfield Avenue Commission members Olivia Mausel and Matthew Chenier stated at last night’s meeting that the removal of the church properties was a response to concerns raised by citizens at a March 20 public hearing. But diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont questioned that explanation.

“The decision to remove the Blessed John Paul Social Center, the Mater Dolorosa School and the parish office building from the proposed district was both obvious and predictable,” Dupont told iobserve. “It was always clear what the motive of this group was, to entangle the former Mater Dolorosa Church in a government-regulated historic district.

“ (It is) not surprising that a group with no relationship or role in the proposed neighborhood would disregard the vast testimony of parishioners opposed to such a district,” Dupont said, in reference to parishioners of Holyoke’s Our Lady of the Cross Parish, which was formed by the merger of the former Mater Dolorosa and Holy Cross parishes in 2011.

At the March 20 public meeting, the majority of those opposing the historic district identified themselves as present members of Our Lady of the Cross Parish. They noted that including the parish properties, especially the church, in a historic district would place considerable financial burdens on the struggling parish. Members of the parish were also present at the April 10 meeting of the Fairfield Avenue Commission.

Stephen E. Spelman, a diocesan attorney, also was present at the April 10 commission meeting. In a report provided to iobserve, Spelman noted that, after the motion to remove the three church properties from district was passed, commission member Wendy Weiss asked, “Can we add them back in later?” and Chenier replied, “Yes.”

Spelman’s report also identifies inconsistencies in the guidelines for the new district. While Mausel states, “Our guidelines will be specific for this district,” Chenier then states later in the meeting that he has recommended that the Polish district use the same guidelines as the Fairfield Avenue District.

Speaking to iobserve, Dupont also questioned the procedural correctness of the historic district proposal itself, stating, as he has repeatedly, that the Springfield Diocese was informed of only two of an alleged 40 board and committee meetings at which the historic district was discussed.

“Furthermore, in support of our earlier premise that procedures had not been properly followed, Ms. Mausel admitted to ‘some 40’ meetings held on this matter in various city government venues,” Dupont said. “We knew of only two, so there are real questions surrounding the propriety of those other sessions.”

A final report on the April 10 meeting is to be written by Mausel and, after being reviewed by the Fairfield Avenue Commission, will be sent as a proposed ordinance to the city solicitor and then to the city council. If approved by the city council, the ordinance would then require the signature of Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse to be enacted.

“We continue to be hopeful that the city council will see through the guise and reject the district when that matter comes up in May,” said Dupont.