BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Work has begun on the expansion project at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, and the home next door has been razed and the lot cleaned. Owen-Ames-Kimball Company, a general contractor with a longstanding presence in Southwest Florida, is doing the work. The new Parish Life Center will be built on West Railroad Avenue just south of the church campus on Park Avenue.
The subject property consists of two lots of the revised plat of Boca Grande. It is bounded on the east by West Railroad Avenue and on the west by a midblock alley. This creates two lot frontages. The lot depth is reduced as a result of the angle at which West Railroad Avenue intersects the lot, creating a trapezoid shape and reducing the building area. When the code minimum setbacks are applied, the building area is reduced to 45 feet by 60 feet.
The existing structure at 221 W. Railroad Ave., which has been owned by the church since 2018, has been demolished as well. 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. The proposed parish hall is designed to be incorporated into the existing Our Lady of Mercy style of architecture and, according to the architectural firm of Morris Depew, flow seamlessly.
According to a statement made by Father Jerome Carosella while addressing the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board last year, during high season the church is filled, sometimes five times a day and sometimes with standing room only. In addition to the schedule of five masses, he said, very often parishioners congregate on the steps outside the church or are seated in the courtyard. The new building, which he called The Parish Life Center, will most likely help parking issues that might come up from multiple masses, as it will reduce the amount of services through the potential to simulcast the service from the church into the parish hall.
The new center will feature a vestibule, a commercial kitchen and a large area of open meeting area. A sloped covered walkway will connect the existing church to the new center.
The project includes demolition of an existing residence on the property, a crushed granite parking lot, sidewalk and landscaping.
There was no contention by the public regarding the exceptions because, as Morris Depew representatives reported, no one attended the online meeting that was held last year. This matter went before the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board and was approved there as well, including variances requested by the project managers that included 1) relief from the requirement of a minimum 15-foot buffer along the property line abutting a right-of-way, and to instead allow a buffer of varying widths along Railroad Avenue and the alley; 2) relief from the minimum requirement of a 15-foot buffer along the south property line abutting a single-family residence with a wall or berm; and 3) relief from a requirement that limits the maximum amount of palm trees to 50 percent of the required trees, to allow the installation of only palm trees. The amount of landscaping required by code, they said, would be provided within the reduced buffers.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.