Housing eyed for parish campus at St. Matthew’s site

Two development groups are exploring a partnership that would redevelop the former St. Matthew parish campus on Dorchester’s Stanton Street into a mixed residential project with a significant affordable housing component.

V10 Development and Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation (NDC) rolled out their collaborative proposal, which is still in the exploratory stage, along with some initial ideas at a small public meeting with neighborhood association leaders from Redefining Our Community (ROC), Dorchester Unified, and Talbot Norfolk Triangle (TNT) on March 31.

St. Matthew parish was established in Dorchester in 1923. On Oct. 1, 2020, the parish was combined with nearby St. Angela parish to form Our Lady of Carmel parish. The church on Stanton Street was decommissioned and is now ready for what is known as “profane [non-religious] use.”

John Tocco, of V10, said his firm has owned the former rectory building at St. Matthew’s for some time and obtained the rest of the property under agreement from the archdiocese of Boston early this year.

St. Matthew Church

“We envision a mixed residential project with a heavy influence on affordability,” he said. “One way of achieving this is to potentially partner with the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation or a similar affordable development group, which is what we’re exploring now.”

Gail Latimore, director of Codman Square NDC, said that while there are no agreements between the two potential partners, they’ve had some “good conversations” over the past two months about the opportunity.

“We have no formal relationship or agreement,” she said, “but what we are doing is seeing how we can do something on the site. We have no plans. Being that the site is a former church, we wanted to have conversations in the community. We want to see if we can make the site work financially.”

Tocco and Latimore said any agreement would likely be a collaboration whereby Codman Square NDC would need to develop a minimum of 100 affordable rental units on the part of the site where the church and two related buildings now sit.

Such a venture would include purchasing the land at market rates from V10.

Meanwhile, V10 would develop a combination of 50 market rate and affordable units that would likely offer homeownership opportunities, with the entire campus being made up of a few separate buildings.

With that, the collaboration would consist of 150 units across the site, with parking aiming to be one-to-one for the V10 portion and the minimum 0.7 spots per unit for the affordable site. Tocco said they understand, even at this early point, that they are looking at a residential neighborhood that needs off-street parking.

“We don’t want people spilling out into the neighborhood and disrupting your block,” he said.

Said Latimore: “The other thing is we’re not sure if we can keep the buildings on the site. We haven’t decided anything, but we don’t know. We may have to demolish them, including the church.”

Tocco said his group has not developed in Dorchester, but has two large projects in the works in Everett and Worcester. He said he had experience in infrastructure development overseas before coming back to his home in Greater Boston, where he took on a major community relations role during the development and construction of the Encore Boston Harbor casino.

Knowing how communities work, and wanting to respect the area around St. Matthew, he said his company wanted to meet with neighbors before embarking on any big plans. They knew they wanted to make a big splash on the affordable housing piece at the site, and after investigating how to do it themselves, they realized it was much more complicated than they had anticipated. That led them to search for partners, which is how Codman Square NDC came to being considered for such a role.

“What we hope to take away at this early stage is what is exciting for the community.,” Tocco said.

For community members in attendance, one of the biggest concerns was the potential loss of long-time local operator Wesley Child Care, which has served the community since 1969 and has been located on the St. Matthew site since 2006.

Neighbors from Stanton Street and ROC indicated they would love to see a portion of the development be devoted to Wesley, as childcare in the area is tough to find.

“That’s very important to us,” said one neighbor representing Stanton Street. “Having a leasable space that could be a day care would be very important to maintain.”

Many neighbors also said they felt blindsided by the sale of the property. They stressed that the campus has always been a community gathering space, even for those who didn’t attend church there. Representatives from ROC and Dorchester Unified indicated they would like to see the gathering space continued with the provision of an enhanced community room for at least three of the abutting associations, a place for monthly meetings, for community gatherings, and for receiving official association mail.

“We need a place to call home,” said one ROC leader. “Not just a room, but a home.”

Other concerns were about the density on the site – a church campus with nearly no residential component would now have at least 150 new residences within a tight neighborhood. That, neighborhood leaders said, would need to be carefully planned and expertly executed to avoid disrupting a street that consists mostly of long-time homeowners.

Other leaders asked V10 to consider implementing a developer’s teaching program for young people and teens who are interested in any aspect of development – from property acquisition to architecture to community engagement to construction.

While the initial results of the meeting seemed promising for the potential development collaboration, more discussion is ongoing and any potential development agreement is still in the exploration stages, Tocco said late last week.