June 11, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
A well-attended remote meeting Thursday night marked the start of the community engagement process related to the sale of, and potential redevelopment plans for, the historic Old Ship Parish House property at 107 Main St. in downtown Hingham and the proposed building of a new Parish House across the street, adjacent to the Old Ship Meeting House.
The purpose of the meeting was to answer questions and listen to ideas and concerns expressed by neighbors and others interested in the project.
The 14,000-square-foot building is situated on a three-acre parcel which is located in a Residence A zoning district. This allows a number of uses -- including single-family houses.
"Our goal is to get as much input as we can to develop ideas for the future use of the 107 Main Street property," said Atlantic Development President D.J. MacKinnon, who lives just up the street from the Parish House. "We plan to work within the town's existing rules and regulations. We don't plan to propose a 40B [comprehensive permit development], multi-family condos, or any rezoning changes."
The idea is to generate enough value from the property to build a new Parish House, at an estimated cost of $4 million.
MacKinnon explained that another component of the proposal is to use some of the land to expand the town-owned Lincoln School Apartments located behind the existing Parish House, which would provide much-needed additional affordable housing for seniors.
A number of Old Ship Church members and neighbors shared their views and asked questions.
Longtime OSC member and Hingham resident Mary Thomas made a "special plea" for preservation of the labyrinth that was installed many years ago in the Parish Hall behind the original building. "This was a gift to the community and is a spiritual tool used for meditation," she said.
This was the first MacKinnon had heard of the labyrinth and he promised to look into the situation.
Thomas also expressed support for expanding the Lincoln School Apartments. "More affordable senior housing is very much needed in town," she said. "There is a huge waiting list."
Main Street resident Terrence Ronan asked what would happen if Atlantic Development can't come up with a plan that would work under current town regulations, to which MacKinnon responded, "If we were to reach that point, we would not be interested in developing the property."
Elm Street resident Vincent Maccarrone asked what the plans are for the dirt road that runs between the rear of the Parish House and the back of the Lincoln School Apartments, "which abuts my front door [within] about six feet," he said.
There are no plans yet for that part of the property, MacKinnon responded. Thomas noted that this unfinished roadway is currently used as a fire lane.
Main Street resident Davis Dassori said he had expected more details to be shared about MacKinnon's plans for the property during the meeting. "I know you're seeking input, but you must have some ideas or you wouldn't be in the deal. The process so far seems secretive," he said.
MacKinnon explained that the intention is for this to be an open and methodical process. "Although [in other communities] we have [more definitive plans] for certain properties, we don't have a specific use in mind for 107 Main St."
Erin Spranger, who lives across the street from the Parish House and near the proposed site for the new one, also asked MacKinnon to share his vision for the current Parish House. "You mentioned that you're not interested in building condos, so what are you thinking? I'm confused as to what the space will be used for."
MacKinnon further explained that there are no definite plans for the property at this time and asked Spranger to share any ideas she might have.
"I think it would make a great community center for the town," she said -- to which MacKinnon responded, "If the town is interested in buying the property for that purpose, we would be happy to have that discussion."
Another resident asked if another house could be built on the property near the existing Parish House, which was once a residence before additions were added to the original building.
\MacKinnon explained that all options will be explored. "Under the town's zoning by-law, the minimum lot size [for a single-family house] in that area is 20,000-square-feet," he said, "so theoretically, a piece of the property could be carved out to expand the Lincoln School Apartments, and depending on how much land is left, the property could [perhaps] be divided into a couple more parcels."
Throughout the meeting, MacKinnon reiterated his interest in widespread community participation in offering ideas and suggestions for the potential reuse of the property.
A site visit to the Parish House is planned for Tuesday, June 22, at 6 p.m. Email Geri at [email protected] to sign up.
Ideas for reuse of the 107 Main St. property, questions, comments, or concerns may be shared at the above email or by calling MacKinnon directly at (617) 429-5025.
"I'd be happy to meet with anyone who has questions or who would like to walk the site," he said. "We'd like as many people as possible to be involved in the process."
Another Zoom meeting will be scheduled in July to present and discuss various ideas for the property, including ones suggested by neighbors and other members of the community. "At that time we will display the different options all at once to provide the full landscape of what could happen at 107 Main St.," MacKinnon said.
"There will be a lot of analysis and a town review process, with the goal to build something that is appropriate for the neighborhood. There is no predetermined plan."
MacKinnon said he is looking forward "to starting to work with everyone [on this project]."