Historic Preservation Board votes in Catholic Church project

June 12, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY MARCY SHORTUSE- Work will soon begin on a new parish hall for the Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, as the project was approved unanimously by the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board at their monthly meeting on Wednesday, June 10.
After a short introduction by Father Jerome Carosella, a slideshow presentation was given by John Holz, an architect with Plunkett Raysich Architects. He showed the audience and board members that the existing structure at 221 W. Railroad Ave., which has been owned by the church since 2018, will be demolished. In its place will be expanded parking for the church, and the new proposed parish hall. The new hall will be 3,647 square feet. A covered walkway will be constructed that goes from the side door of the church to the new hall.
 Carosella said that from the minute he first laid eyes on the church many years ago, he would resist any suggestion to change the building. The few changes that have been made in the last decades, he said, were to put in a better sound system, to replace the lighting and to have air conditioning installed.
“The building we are proposing, which we will call the Parish Life Center, we think will complete our parish campus,” Carosella said. “The church, the building that serves both as a residence for the priest and parish office, and the preschool building that we are more than happy to provide, are there already. Finally, this place will be for our congregation to assemble, and for other activities that are appropriate, that we have not been able to accommodate before because of a lack of space. We are also planning to enlarge that parking area with a number of additional spaces.”
 He paused, then continued. “When they dedicated our church 70 years ago, they probably thought they would never fill it,” he said. “Now we fill it, five times a day sometimes, for Sunday masses in season. In addition to the schedule of five masses, very often we have standing room only, either in side aisles of church or parishioners collecting on the steps. Sometimes they are even seated in the courtyard. The Parish Life Center will relieve the need for the multiplicity of masses we have, and it will accommodate those who cannot fit into the church. The overflow of parishioners will be able to view that mass and participate through a simulcast, and communion will be brought by covered walkway between buildings at the appropriate time. I think you will all agree that the building we have is an island treasure. It is recognized for its architectural beauty far and wide, and we want to change it as little as possible. We have found a plan for a building that will not compete with the church, but rather complement it.”
 A decision was also made in the Sarkes residence generator case, at 890 E. Railroad Ave. The property owner requested permission to install a generator and platform in the backyard in the setback, which would be enclosed with screen and shielded by foliage. 
According to Peter Blackwell, a planner with Lee County Zoning, staff recommended approval of the project, even though there was one neighbor’s objection.
 David Borza, a construction superintendent with Safety Harbor Builders, spoke on behalf of the applicant. He said the generator needed to be installed, not only for the health and safety of the residents in the event of a hurricane, but also because there is some very ornate woodworking in the home. Long periods of time without air conditioning could do permanent damage to the wood.
 Borza also explained to the Board that the applicant had originally wanted to purchase an air-cooled generator, which is cheaper, but instead decided to spend more money on a liquid-cooled generator for the convenience of the neighbors. “The location we have shown you on the plan is the only real location where it (the generator) isn’t visible from the road,” Borza said. 
 Board Member Paul Eddy asked why the proposed unit was placed in the setback. Borza said it was because the backyard is so small that there was no room for the unit and a proposed garden the owner would like to plant. Board Member Bill Caldwell said the location was better than anywhere else, as there is no visibility from the road. “I think it’s better than having it on the road,” he said. “I would think since the neighbor has complained a bit about it, if you moved it slightly to the north, out of the setback, it wouldn’t be too bad. I don’t think it would be horribly expensive to do that, and while it might be a bit of a compromise, it would allow you to have a little more space, as well as heavier vegetation on south side of platform for sound.”
 Borza said that under normal circumstances the generator will only run for 12 minutes, once a week, for maintenance. “The neighbor can choose when he wants that to happen,” Borza said. “There’s 10,000 minutes in a week, and we just want 12 of them.” He added, “And if there is a hurricane, there’s a lot more (for the neighbor) to worry about than the generator running.”
 Board Member Becky Paterson agreed that the pad should be moved to the north by three feet. Eddy moved to accept the proposal, with the provision that the project be moved as far as possible to the north. Board President Jerry Edgerton asked how they could be assured that would happen, and Blackwell replied that they could make the motion as it was, but that the pad had to moved three feet to the north. With that stipulation, the Board approved the plan unanimously.
 In other Historic Preservation Board news, four other plans were approved: 
• A proposal to re-roof the home at 461 Palm Ave. with a new metal standing-seam roof;
• A proposal at 340 Tarpon Ave. to replace a paver patio with a screened-in porch;
• A proposal at 350 Tarpon Ave. to build a pool and sandset paver deck; and
• A proposal at 1841 18th St. W. to add a free-standing sauna at the rear of the house (with an option for half-moon windows).
The next meeting will be held on July 8 at 10 a.m. at the Boca Grande Community Center.