Month in Review, August, 2016: Part 1, The arc of zoning

November 21, 2016 | Airbnb, as-of-right zoning, Development, Eurozone, Housing, Innovations, Italy, kayfabe, Speculation, work-live housing, Zoning, zoning-by-taste-police, ZTP | No comments 77 views

 

By: David A. Smith

 

When the history of the twentieth century is written, a chapter should be devoted to zoning.  The two-dimensional version was invented in the century’s first decade, and now a hundred years later, zoning in the urban context is so anachronistic as to be dysfunctional, as illustrated by three posts that show zoning’s past, present, and future:

 

The past.  For all the centuries before zoning, mixed-use and live-work spaces were the norm of urban existence, and with zoning they gradually faded into oblivion, even when they were as sensible as having a caretaker live in a library, now known to us only in Tintypes from the time before: Part 1, The dusty stacks of memory:

 

peake_rottcodd

Rottcodd, drawn by his author, Mervyn Peake

 

The Hall of the Bright Carvings, which ran along the top storey of the north wing, was presided over by the curator, Rottcodd, who, as no one ever visited the room, slept during most of his life in the hammock he had erected at the far end.

Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake

 

We who live in urban environments have become so accustomed to paying for housing and it being expensive that we may now and then fantasize of living in the heart of the city, in blissful solitude, rent free, so it is with no little nostalgia that I came upon an affectionate retrospective by Cait Etherington published in the New-York-centric electronic journal 6sqft (July 3, 2016):

 

Life Behind the Stacks: The Secret Apartments of New York Libraries

 

discworld_reading_guide

Goodness knows how tangled is the reading guide to Your Humble Blogger’s Brain

 

So incredibly logical and appealing is the idea of living inside a larger structure that it’s virtually a staple of steampunk fiction (cf. Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork or Martin Scorsese’s Hugo), perhaps as a staple for what we recall but have lost as referenced in Part 2, References in the archive, and Part 3, An idea to be returned to circulation:

 

hugo_atop_clock

All of you are in guests in my house

 

Like the dodo, the work-live librarian is extinct: in New York City, anyhow.

 

The last known live-in superintendent moved out of the NYPL’s Webster Branch, located at 1468 York Avenue in Yorkville, in 2006.

 

librarian_reading

And the librarian lived in the library for ever and ever … until 2006, at any rate

 

Although the library-residence post was written as freestanding, it revealed my recent-vintage preoccupation with zoning:

 

Current two-dimensional zoning models are under irresistible pressure to change.  Gig workers, intangible and far-flung web-connected value chains, information work, Airbnb – even with all the fierce defensive pressure of NIMBYs, I think zoning is overdue for a populist revolution.  Indeed, 6sqft’s manifesto for modern urban life celebrates proximity and random occurrence:

 

6sqft takes its name from the notion of personal space, introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall back in 1966 as a way of defining how people behave and react in different types of culturally established spaces. Hall theorizes that personal space measures just a little over two square feet, while our social space can extend well beyond 64 square feet.

 

edward_t_hall

The Hall of the bright cities

 

The best cities will make the most economical and multipurpose use of their built environment – the worst will place these as far from one another as possible.

 

It’s time to revive the viability of work-live spaces.

 

The boarded floor was white with dust which, so assiduously kept from the carvings, had no alternative resting place and had collected deep and ash-like, accumulating especially in the four corners of the hall.

Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake

 

The present.  Anyone who works in urban property development has discovered the anaconda constructions of Zoning by the Taste Police: Part 1, Exactly 22 would be legal:

 

zoning_by_taste_police

 

ZTP is the antithesis of as-of right zoning (ARZ).  Where ARZ provides certainty, ZTP creates uncertainty.  When ARZ offers speed, ZTP is delay.  Where ARZ is all about law, ZTP is all about politics.  And where ARZ seeks to expand the built environment and grow vertically, ZTP seeks to preserve the current built environment by stopping growth.

 

Throughout Eastern Massachusetts, existing block-by-block limits on growth add up to something perverse. As a startling report showed earlier this year, the City of Somerville has banned, well, Somerville.  Exactly 22 of the existing residential buildings in that community of 80,000 people would be legal under today’s zoning rules.

 

Lots of cities and towns have passed similar limits at the request of neighborhood leaders. The underlying message is: We’ve got ours, so who cares if house prices go up?

 

Whereas ARZ enables cities to grow, ZTP is killing them in multiple ways.

 

the_future_comes_for_you

The future will be here at any moment

 

The asphyxiating effects of ZTP I then documented further in Part 2, Too much, too many, too few, too tall, Part 3, So convoluted and so dense, Part 4, Beloved in many skyscrapers, Part 5, From 24 apartments to just eight:

 

Zoning by the Taste Police is excessively complex (and becomes progressively more complicated over time), and adds uncertainty, risk, and cost to any development project, whether new building or rehab/ renovation.

 

These features inhibit development across the board, which is bad enough, but in fact ZTP isn’t just an equal-opportunity inhibitor, it actually harms one asset class more than others.

 

 

5. Zoning by the Taste Police creates housing scarcity

 

More than a decade ago, I tumbled to the some early truths about affordable housing, that is always has a cost-value gapand that affordable housing always costs money, but it’s taken me the better part of the decade since to take the logical next steps and formulate the Low of Affordable Housing Economic Bias:

 

law_economic_housing_bias

 

To me the Law of Affordable Housing Economic Bias is as real and as visible as gravity, and because of this here is where my irritation with Zoning by the Taste Police reaches its ultimate crescendo:

 

ZTP is objectively anti-affordable-housing in the George Orwell sense – adapting from his famous essay, we get this:

 

orwell_if_liberty_means

 

Zoning by the Taste Police is objectively anti-affordable-housing.  This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the affordable housing development effort of one side you automatically help that of the NIMBY-ites. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the fights over urban land use. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the shortage of affordable housing, while living in housing which housing developers have to run the ZTP gauntlet to build, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and incumbent homeownership.

 

Once you grasp the Law of Affordable Housing Economic Bias, then the interpretation of this next ZTP example becomes self-evident.

 

And I finished the series with Part 6, Can’t just wish those pressures away, and Part 7, Good and bad, I define these terms:

 

Since it was approved in 1916, the ever-evolving, byzantine code has changed many times to suit the needs of a swollen metropolis. Just in March, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio won approval for a vast citywide plan that would encourage sleeker, more affordable developments.

 

Will the wheel turn back toward prospective, inclusive development?

 

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

 Bob Dylan, 1964

 

bob_dylan_1964

What a long, strange trip is ahead of me

 

The future.  The demise of zoning – or at least, its complete disruption – may already be upon us, coming in the guise of Zoning’s fifth column:

 

As my four columns of troops approach the city, a fifth column of people inside the city will support us and undermine the government from within.

General Emilio Mola, advancing on Madrid, 1936 (paraphrased from Wikipedia)

 

According to Gordon Gekko’s reading of Sun Tzu, every battle is won before it’s fought.

 

 

gekko_sun_tzu

And greed is good

 

That dynamic is now playing out in New York City, where Airbnb’s brilliant stealth multi-year campaign, which I’ve documented before, has now reached the crunch point, where its fifth column – apartment occupants making money on the side by renting their pads – are now ready to take on both the Mayor and the Governor of New York – and I’ll bet they win.  As presented in Crain’s New York (August 24, 2016):

 

A third of Airbnb revenue comes from apartments turned into hotels, says study

Data is revealed as Cuomo ponders bill forbidding advertising of such units

 

Although this is a New York-based story, hence the focus on the share of Airbnb revenue from New York, I’m very confident that Airbnb’s revenue distribution is highly, excessively concentrated in high-cost, high-scarcity cities: New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, because when there’s plenty of supply, the ‘hotel room premium’ – that is, the price of a hotel room versus the price of an Airbnb rental – will be highest.

 

airbnb_and_cities_ahi_posts

 

Big NIMBY cities never have enough hotel rooms – the development cycle sees to that – and then they slap on hotel taxes, tourist taxes, and other politically logical soak-the-outsider costs.  The dynamism of hotel pricing (even more rapid-response than airline pricing, though not as responsive as flower-bouquet pricing around romantic holidays) assures that if there is temporary scarcity, the room rates jump – and that creates economic pressure which will bring marginal landlords into the Airbnb system.

 

Zoning’s wasn’t the only arc whose pause at the apex and potentially accelerating descent that I chronicled in August.

 

parabolic_projectile

Applicable to political strategies, too

 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 2.]

Catechism of closure: Part 9, A place is only a place

November 15, 2016 | Boston, Catholic Church, Churches, Eviction, Housing, Land use economics, Law, Ownership, Redevelopment, religion, Scituate, US News | 1 comment 125 views

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.]

 

By: David A. Smith

 

Now, in the ninth and ultimate part of this post, one short of the number of commandments, the parishioners have decamped from their occupancy/ vigil, the archdiocese has closed and locked the church (four years earlier, it had sold the rectory across the street), and the parishioners had rejected repeated (and, as far as I can tell, ongoing) overtures from the Archdiocese to join another local Catholic church. 

 

Since the beginning, the archdiocese has asked the Friends to join other churches within its purview. This week, the hierarchy repeated the invitation. “Their sense of loss from the closing of the parish is understandable,” spokesman Terry Donilon says. “The most important step we can now make as a Catholic family is to continue to work toward reconciliation … with the hope that this can lead to them rejoining the parishes of the archdiocese.”

 

Instead their focus had shifted from defending one place to founding another.

 

 

32. Will they found a breakaway church?

 

“You look back over the past twelve years. What was our assignment? To change the church internally? Or was it to sow the seeds of a new church? … I think God answered that this morning,” Rogers said.

 

herald_what_going_to_do_160516

Parishioner Mary Fernandes, one day during the vigil

 

[The parishioners] are creating their own Catholic Church – one independent of the Boston Archdiocese and the Roman Catholic Church.

 

If the parishioners ‘are creating’ their own church, where is the visible evidence? 

 

 

Sources used in this post

Boston Globe, May 24, 2004; cardinal red font

Boston Globe, January 9, 2011: azure font

Boston Globe, March 20, 2015; seaweed font

Portland Press-Herald, May 27, 2015; midnight font

Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2015; black-olive font

Boston Herald, May 16, 2016; black font

New York Times, May 30, 2016; gray-blue font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger editorial, May 27, 2016; burnt umber font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger, May 31, 2016; olive font

Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini web site (accessed October 15, 2016); lavender font

Boston Globe (October 28, 2016; Pastel blue font)

 

What are the actions that will demonstrate ‘founding a new church’?  Doubter that I am, I have seen none, only heard words.

 

caravaggio_doubting_cropped

That certainly demonstrates a past tense verb

 

 

The older I get, the more fascinated I am by the verb tense of declarative statements of intent: ‘would do’ versus ‘will do’, ‘will do’ versus ‘am doing’, ‘am doing’ versus ‘did’.  Statements of intent are easy and represent no actual time expended, whereas statements of activity are committal, and statements of past actions are evidence.

 

Rogers said the group will form a new church, called the all-inclusive independent Catholic Church, in Scituate and will worship in one of three possible locations located within five minutes of the existing church. 

 

somethings_amiss

 

Something’s amiss.  For 11½ years, these parishioners told anyone and everyone that this church was the rock on which they would build their faith, here they stood, they could no other. 

 

It didn’t take long for the Friends, led by Maryellen and Jon Rogers, to establish a new church –

 

Yes they are meeting, but is it a church?

 

– which is meeting at the Satuit Lodge of Freemasons in Scituate, while they plan a capital campaign for their own church building.

 

If they were so wedded to that place, and not to the Archdiocese, how then would they be so ready to gather into another unconsecrated location ‘five minutes away’, rather than either of the two other Catholic churches within an eight minute drive?

 

To me this smacks less of faith and more of ego.

 

 

33. Was this vigil in the tradition of the Reformation?

 

Ms. MacIsaac settled into her shift and took out her phone, on which she sometimes plays solitaire to pass the time. As she reflected on the last twelve years, she turned defiant.

 

“We don’t have to take their ‘pay, pray and obey — we don’t have to obey,” Ms. MacIsaac said. “And we showed that to the world.”

 

luther_here_i_stand

 

Certainly the parishioners have acted as if they, rather than the Archdiocese, were the sole and ultimate judges of what constituted true Catholic faith.

 

While the Archdiocese has considered the church a deconsecrated building since October 2004, several longtime St. Frances members took turns holding a service each Sunday. They used host that was consecrated by a sympathetic priest whose identity has been kept a secret.

 

Catholics aren’t Presbyterians, and though I won’t wade into another person’s theology, having precious little of it myself, to me this sounds like compounding breach of faith.

forget_the_church

You can have faith without being a Catholic, but you cannot be a Catholic without faith?

 

Here’s how Maryellen Rogers describes it: “We are an ecumenical Catholic church, we are still valid practicing Catholics, part of the universal Catholic Church, not the Roman Catholic Church. So if you join our church community, you would see a welcoming Catholic experience but you would not be supporting the Roman Catholic Church or the Archdiocese of Boston.”

 

But it depends on one’s definition of a religion.  Where is it domiciled?  How is it bounded?

 

Rogers said his group made [a vow] from the outset of their dispute with the church’s regional governing body.

 

“We would continue on with or without the Archdiocese of Boston. It looks like we are about to fulfill that … promise.”

 

The Catholic Church has experienced schisms before.

 

Jon Rogers says that the new church wants to draw from other towns south of Boston, not just Scituate. “This is the seeds of a brand new church, a simple structure, the way Christ would have it,” he says. “It will just be a spiritual home where people can be comfortable without being awestruck or overwhelmed by a hierarchical system. It will be run by the people and for the people.”

 

Some of the schisms (like the four-decade Western Schism) are deservedly forgotten. 

 

great_schism

For a while, there were three popes at once

 

three_popes

 

Others led to the founding of new churches.

 

 “There are a lot of disenfranchised Catholics out there who want to practice their faith and the Archdiocese of Boston has failed miserably in direction and guidance as to how properly to do that,” Rogers said.  “They just don’t relate anymore, they lost the trust of the people … and we are looking to basically fill that void.”

 

Mr. Rogers sounds like a man who wants not just a new location but a whole new creed.

 

john_knox

John Knox, acknowledged founder of the Presbyterian Church

 

 

34. How is their new church going?

 

Stymied for lack of money.

 

The Friends are looking for land near the St. Frances site.

 

Judging by the St. Frances X. Cabrini assessment, it will cost them over $150,000 an acre, before any cost to prepare the site or build a new church.

 

The Friends are excited about their new church. “I think we’ve earned the right to have our own home, and to make sure we have a place to house all the people who want to be surrounded by friends, family, and community,” Jon says. “Our goal is to have our own church home that can never be taken from us, because this church will be a church of the people.”

 

There’s those future-tense verbs again

 

future-tense_verb

 

Meanwhile, the Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini Web site’s time line stops midway through 2014.

 

“Parting with friends is a sadness.  A place is only a place.”

Thufir Hawat the Mentat, Frank Herbert, Dune

 

thufir_hawat

“A place is only a place.”

 

Catechism of closure: Part 8, Until they find something permanent

November 14, 2016 | Boston, Catholic Church, Churches, Eviction, Land use economics, Law, Ownership, Redevelopment, religion, Scituate, US News | No comments 120 views

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.]

                                                                                                            

By: David A. Smith

 

[Once again, sorry for slow posting – the Kuwait work proved intense for a further week. – Ed.]

 

thomas_carlyle

“And I know dismal”

 

Economists are fond of quoting Thomas Carlyle’s crack that economics is the dismal science, but in its way real estate economics is even less empathetic, because not only dos the Law of Economic Gravity apply to it, unlike other forms of economic endeavor real estate can never tiptoe off into the dusk, but must remain in place, and if useless be closed like a mausoleum … until, usually, it is demolished to make way for something else.

                  

maryellen_rogers_in_fxcchurch

Now closed, eventually to be sold, then demolished

 

 

Sources used in this post

Boston Globe, May 24, 2004; cardinal red font

Boston Globe, January 9, 2011: azure font

Boston Globe, March 20, 2015; seaweed font

Portland Press-Herald, May 27, 2015; midnight font

Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2015; black-olive font

Boston Herald, May 16, 2016; black font

New York Times, May 30, 2016; gray-blue font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger editorial, May 27, 2016; burnt umber font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger, May 31, 2016; olive font

Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini web site (accessed October 15, 2016); lavender font

Boston Globe (October 28, 2016; Pastel blue font)

 

 

30. What did the parishioners do after their vigil ended?

 

A place where people congregate can be imbued with an emotional connection because it symbolizes the nexus of community, and the community’s existence as a network of people often wraps around a particular place, so when one is uprooted, another must root:

 

satuit_cabrini

From the Catholics to the Freemasons

 

On Sunday, the Friends of St. Frances will hold their weekly service at the Satuit Lodge in Scituate –

 

Satuit, I just discovered, is a Freemasons’ lodge, and for perhaps a century the Freemasons were the ‘enlightened man’s faith-based community’. 

 

satuit_scituate

A temple devoted to the Enlightenment

 

Leo Tolstoy, who was a Freemason, devotes a … set of War and Peace chapters to Pierre Bezukhov’s search for meaning in his life via the Freemasons.

 

pierre_bezukhov_live_for_others

Blog for others, not for yourself?

 

– which will be their temporary home until they find something permanent.

 

From the earliest days of America, the churches played that role (and when they were deconsecrated, they became meeting houses).

 

old_south_meeting_house

Fomenter of revolution and then of abolition: Boston’s Old South Meeting House

 

“For reasons that I can’t understand, I feel nervous,” Margaret O’Brien, 86, said on Sunday morning. “On the other hand, I’m kind of relieved. We fought the good fight. We did everything we could.”

 

margaret_obrien_fxc

Ms. O’Brien after leaving a day’s vigil

 

Places can give purpose, a purpose that is more than the defense of the place.

 

Ms. O’Brien said she would miss seeing fellow parishioners so often — they regularly handed off shifts to one another — so she planned to convene them at Dunkin’ Donuts.

 

In an irony of real estate as objective correlative of changing mores, the role formerly played by churches and parish houses is now played throughout New England by Dunkin’ Donuts.  (In the Midwest, South, and West, the local McDonald’s, Wendy’s or other burger place serves a similar role.)  They’re the spot where people can drop in, in small groups or singly, and encounter familiar faces doing familiar quotidian things.

 

VIGIL CONTINUES AT MASS CHURCH ST FRANCES X CABRINI

The Arnold boys in vigil

 

The Arnold family, whose triplets, Christian, Scott and Sean, had taken the Friday night vigil shift for most of their young lives.

 

“We’ve been doing this for eleven years,” said Sean, 17. “So, like, not doing this, what else are we going to do?”

 

His brother Scott took a moment to consider the question.

 

“Maybe we’ll take our mother out to a nice dinner,” he said.

 

christine_arnold_scott_arnold

Christine Arnold and her son Scott

 

As Inigo Montoya says at the end of The Princess Bride,

 

Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.

 

A quarter of a century after playing the role, Mandy Patinkin was asked about it, and said: “I love that line, because the purpose of revenge is completely worthless.”

 

mandy_inigo_25_years_later

 

 

31. What will the parishioners do next?

 

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers sound angry, which becomes more understandable the more one learns of them, for this church has been the center of the devotion their entire lives:

 

Jon and Maryellen were married at St. Frances, and her family was among the builders of the church in 1959-60. “St. Frances was built 100% by parishioners’ blood, sweat, tears, and donations,” she says. “I remember my grandparents going door to door.”

 

jon_rogers_in_church

Militant leader Jon Rogers, in his beloved church

 

Jon Rogers said the Archdiocese has made it clear that it will not consider selling the church to the parishioners –

 

Knowing only what I know about real estate negotiation, I can nevertheless say with confidence that Mr. Rogers has misstated the Archdiocese’s position. 

 

 

Posts on occupation-style property protests

Those who seek to bar the owner from exercising its rights

Over what is built on the property

 

‘Historic preservationists’: May 11, 2009, Shooting a white elephant 3 parts: Mountain View, CA.  Opposing Steve Jobs’ right to tear down his house, which he did in 2001, and whose remnants have been collected for future display.

‘Conservation advocates’: November 18, 2014, Whose woods these are?, 6 parts: Belmont, MA.  Blocking a developer from building housing on a wooded parcel

‘Anti-closure occupiers’: March 7, 2013: Cannot we consecrate? 2 parts.  Scituate, MA.  Occupying a deconsecrated catholic church (St. Frances X. Cabrini) scheduled for sale by the Archdiocese of Boston.

‘Political squatters’: December 8, 2011: Freedom of squat?.  Boston, MA, and the Occupy movement anti’s.  (To this day I don’t know what they were for, just what they were against.)

 

 

The Archdiocese will, in the fullness of time, list the property for sale to the highest bidder, and if the parishioners come forward with a qualifying offer at the highest price, I am sure the Archdiocese would sell them the church. 

 

“How can they hold us at arm’s length?” Rogers said. “They’re discriminating against us based on religion.”

 

Unlikely; what the Archdiocese undoubtedly would not do, and what I suspect Mr. Rogers was seeking, was to give the parishioners some kind of explicit or even implicit right of first refusal, or exclusive right to negotiate a price, and then, having negotiated a price, to pursue raising funds to pay that price. 

 

jon_rogers_outside_f_x_cabrini

We want to buy it

 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 9.]

 

Catechism of closure: Part 7, And then they locked the door

November 9, 2016 | Boston, Catholic Church, Churches, Eviction, Housing, Land use economics, Law, Ownership, Redevelopment, religion, Scituate, US News | No comments 169 views

By: David A. Smith

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.]

 

Though it’s taken me six parts and several weeks to reach this point, we finally come to the Archdiocese’s recovery of its property that had been illegally occupied (though the occupiers and the media typically used the parishioner-friendly euphemism ‘in vigil’) – and with all the militant rhetoric put out by the parishioners, I confess myself to have been intensely curious to see just what happened, if only to add to my stock of property-occupation stories.

 

Posts on occupation-style property protests

Those who seek to bar the owner from exercising its rights

Over what is built on the property

 

‘Historic preservationists’: May 11, 2009, Shooting a white elephant 3 parts: Mountain View, CA.  Opposing Steve Jobs’ right to tear down his house, which he did in 2001, and whose remnants have been collected for future display.

‘Conservation advocates’: November 18, 2014, Whose woods these are?, 6 parts: Belmont, MA.  Blocking a developer from building housing on a wooded parcel

‘Anti-closure occupiers’: March 7, 2013: Cannot we consecrate? 2 parts.  Scituate, MA.  Occupying a deconsecrated catholic church (St. Frances X. Cabrini) scheduled for sale by the Archdiocese of Boston.

‘Political squatters’: December 8, 2011: Freedom of squat?.  Boston, MA, and the Occupy movement anti’s.  (To this day I don’t know what they were for, just what they were against.)

 

 

24. How did the takeover actually happen?

 

Anticlimactic physically, but for the parishioners very emotionally. 

 

As they said they would, St. Frances X. Cabrini parishioners complied with a court order and ended their 4,234-day-long vigil as the sun set Monday evening.

 

nancy_shilts_last_service

Parishioner Nancy Shilts during the last service

 

They were grieving – for their church, perhaps for their spirituality.

 

They took videos showing the condition they left the church in, Friends of St. Frances Cabrini co-founder Jon Rogers said, and then they locked the door behind them.

 

Church Closing Dispute

Christine Kane during the final service

 

Perhaps they were grieving for their connection to the memories they have of the ages they were when they were in the church so many and many Sundays over the decades

 

 

25. What will happen to the physical church?

 

For the next many weeks, St. Frances X. Cabrini Church will remain as the parishioners left it, untouched and empty, as the feelings fade.

 

st_fx_cabrini_locked

Not the Wurttemberg door, but ‘twill serve

 

The doors are chained and the windows are boarded up, but the ultimate fate of the St. Frances X. Cabrini Church property remains unknown.

 

Of course the property will eventually be sold, then the church and probably the rectory demolished, then redeveloped.

 

Last June [2015], a residential developer purchased the Star of the Sea Church in Quincy from the Archdiocese of Boston for $600,000. The Archdiocese closed Star of the Sea in 2004.

 

star_of_sea_quincy_parishioners

Parishioners of Star of the Sea in Quincy before a statue of Mary, from their Friends’ Facebook page

 

After reopening for limited services, Star of the Sea held its last Mass in 2011. The church is set to be demolished this summer.

 

Star of the Sea was demolished in October, 2016:

 

star_of_sea_quincy_demolition

 

St. Frances X. Cabrini won’t be sold for quite a while:

 

While the Archdiocese has release no timeline for the sale of St. Frances, the process has proven lengthy at other closed churches.

 

 

26. What will it be redeveloped into?

 

Residential property, of course.  It’s well located on the South Shore and with good commuter lines to Boston, and residential will be the highest and best use of such a site (27 Hood Road), which is zoned R-2 (single-family homes on half-acre lots):

 

cabrini_zoning

 

According to the Scituate assessors’ office, the St. Frances property contains 16.26 acres and is valued at about $2.17 million.

 

More than likely, it will have an affordable housing component, which Scituate badly needs because, of the Town’s housing stock (7,163 units), only 310 apartments are affordable, and at 4.3% that is far below the 10% threshold required under Chapter 40B that exempts a town from the risk of a zoning override. Indeed, I can envision a Chapter 40B fight over the property.

 

 

27. Without the pedophilia scandals, would St. Frances Cabrini still be a church?

 

Yes, I think so.

 

scituate_vigiliers

Once built and paid for, it stays open until affirmatively closed in anticipation of sale

 

While it’s a counterfactual premise not given to mortals to know, I certainly think St. Frances X. Cabrini would still be open.  Large institutions do not downside their footprint unless compelled to do so by extremity.

 

28. Does that mean closing St. Frances Cabrini was a mistake?

 

Actually no, it was the right thing to do; the church, like any other networked organization, should always be looking to optimize its real estate portfolio, and sentiment aside – an impossibility when dealing with a church, I confess – there’s only the thinnest of business cases for keeping the church alive. 

 

 

Sources used in this post

Boston Globe, May 24, 2004; cardinal red font

Boston Globe, January 9, 2011: azure font

Boston Globe, March 20, 2015; seaweed font

Portland Press-Herald, May 27, 2015; midnight font

Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2015; black-olive font

Boston Herald, May 16, 2016; black font

New York Times, May 30, 2016; gray-blue font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger editorial, May 27, 2016; burnt umber font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger, May 31, 2016; olive font

Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini web sit (accessed October 15, 2016); lavender font

 

 

Architecturally, Cabrini is unremarkable.  Demographically, it was surplus, underused and with plenty of Catholic churches close by.   Economically, it was unprofitable and almost certainly a noticeable cash drain – meaning that to keep it open would be to deprive others of ministry. 

 

catholic_consolidation

Parishioners may be up, but attendance is down, as is the number of priests

 

Just like some old elementary schools, it rationally should have been closed, the parishioners graciously accommodated in the other local Catholic churches, the land sold for redevelopment 

 

In a separate move that could spur development in Randolph, Goldstein said the Town Council is planning to meet with the school officials to transfer ownership of the shuttered Devine Elementary School from the school department to the town so that it can be sold to a developer.

 

“The Devine School property has been vacant for a decade and we think it would be a great site for economic growth,” Goldstein said.

 

charles_g_devine_school

Shuttered in 2008, sold in 2014, and likely to be turned into housing

 

– and the money put into ministry elsewhere in the Archdiocese.

 

 

29. Aren’t those two sentiments together contradictory?

 

No, they’re just sad, because faith is not always rational and reason is not always the human answer.

 

blind_faith_be_all_right

Will it be all right?

 

The church made a practical, profane decision impelled by the bending branch of declining congregations and cracked into action by the meteor strike of the pedophile scandals and enormous sentiments.  The parishioners saw it as a violation of the Archdiocese’s sacred trust, and they turned their refusal into an in-place crusade

 

But what do you do when the crusade is over?

 

Continued tomorrow in Part 8.]

Catechism of closure: Part 6, A priest but later was married

November 7, 2016 | Boston, Catholic Church, Churches, Eviction, Housing, Land use economics, Law, Ownership, Redevelopment, religion, Scituate, US News | 1 comment 179 views

By: David A. Smith

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.]

 

 

As we saw in the last installment of this multi-part post, undertaken before my latest unexpected AHI jaunt, the parishioners of St. Frances X. Cabrini Catholic Church in Scituate had no legal case, neither in canon law nor in secular real estate law. 

 

[Last week, on short notice I went to Kuwait, leaving Boston on Saturday, returning to Boston late Wednesday night.  It was my first time there, and like most places, it’s fascinating and contradictory at the same time.  The trip forced a suspension of my posting, but now that I’m back, we can resume our catechism.  – Ed.]

 

After more than a decade of flaying their law books until the pages shredded, though they’d lost every argument they had had the inventiveness to raise, they’d gained eleven years’ reprieve and they’d forced the Archdiocese and church to reaffirm every bit of doctrine … but they never got what they hoped (perhaps against hope) they would achieve – acknowledgment from the Archdiocese or the Vatican itself that as parishioners they had a moral or spiritual claim the legacy of St. Frances X. Cabrini.

 

 

Sources used in this post

Boston Globe, May 24, 2004; cardinal red font

Boston Globe, January 9, 2011: azure font

Boston Globe, March 20, 2015; seaweed font

Portland Press-Herald, May 27, 2015; midnight font

Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2015; black-olive font

Boston Herald, May 16, 2016; black font

New York Times, May 30, 2016; gray-blue font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger editorial, May 27, 2016; burnt umber font

Quincy Patriot-Ledger, May 31, 2016; olive font

Friends of St. Frances X. Cabrini web site (accessed October 15, 2016); lavender font

 

 

21. Who owns Saint Frances X. Cabrini’s spiritual legacy?

 

The parishioners have announced their intention to form a new church (about which more below), and like the frustrated fans of the Seattle SuperSonics, they are claimed suzerainty over the symbolic legacy of the saint herself.

 

bring_back_our_sonics

We claim the legacy of Saint Kevin Durant

 

The parishioners said they intended to break away from the archdiocesan hierarchy and form an independent Catholic Church.

 

To form an independent church not recognizing Rome and still call oneself Catholics is to leave a sports league and claim one is the undisputed champion.

 

spassky_fischer_1992

A rogue genius playing for a rogue title in a rogue state:

Bobby Fischer, Belgrade, 1992

 

The new church will still celebrate St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first naturalized American ever canonized by the Catholic Church.

 

durant_sonic

Too bad, I’m now in San Francisco anyhow

 

As I posted back in March 7, 2013: Cannot we consecrate? the first time I explored this confrontation, Saint Frances X. Cabrini herself was much more attached to people than to any one place:

 

sister_f_x_cabrini

She believed in moving

 

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850 and established the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus three decades later. She was dispatched by the pope to the United States with a mission to work in Italian immigrant communities in New York, Chicago and elsewhere. She became a US citizen before her death in 1917, and was declared to be a saint by the Catholic Church in 1946.

 

Naturally enough, the lead militant, Jon Rogers, found a way to spin his results as fulfilling the saint’s vision:

 

jon_rogers_in_church

“We have done our namesake proud.”

 

“She was a hard-nosed grinder who got things done,” Rogers said. “After eleven and a half years, we have done our namesake proud.”

 

Precisely what did the parishioners ‘get done’?  What is permanently different for their vigil?

 

 

Posts on occupation-style property protests

Those who seek to bar the owner from exercising its rights

Over what is built on the property

 

‘Historic preservationists’: May 11, 2009, Shooting a white elephant 3 parts: Mountain View, CA.  Opposing Steve Jobs’ right to tear down his house, which he did in 2001, and whose remnants have been collected for future display.

‘Conservation advocates’: November 18, 2014, Whose woods these are?, 6 parts: Belmont, MA.  Blocking a developer from building housing on a wooded parcel

‘Anti-closure occupiers’: March 7, 2013: Cannot we consecrate? 2 parts.  Scituate, MA.  Occupying a deconsecrated catholic church (St. Frances X. Cabrini) scheduled for sale by the Archdiocese of Boston.

‘Political squatters’: December 8, 2011.  Boston, MA, and the Occupy movement anti’s.  (To this day I don’t know what they were for, just what they were against.)

 

 

 

22. How many other churches are still maintaining a vigil?

 

None.

 

According to the Benchmark Reporter [Link is broken – Ed.]:

 

This vigil is believed to be the only current occupation of a closed U.S. Catholic church.

 

nancy_shilts_last_service

Announcing the last service, May 29, 2016

 

The Roman Catholic Church in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest has been merging and closing due to a multiple factors.  Financial problems aside, emptier pews and a shortage of priests seem to be major issues.

 

Throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, plenty of church buildings are for sale, and though they may be outlasting the funeral homes, their continued real estate prognosis is not terribly good.

 

Some congregations have resisted so far by appealing to the Vatican and occupying churches. According to experts who track church closures, the St. Frances vigil has lasted the longest so far.

 

candle_extinguished

And now, darkness?

 

 

23. Why were these parishioners so defiant?

 

Though they themselves never said, I think they spent 11 ½ years thumbing their noses at the Archdiocese, and taking satisfaction the entire time.

 

The congregants agreed to leave — after a final celebration.

 

christine_kane_kevin_kane

Christine Kane and her son Kevin Kane during the service. Credit M. Scott Brauer for The New York Times

 

In fact the parishioners made their final celebration a political rather than theological event for the gawking media:

 

A man who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, but was later married, stood at the altar of the deconsecrated church and led services.

 

To marry means to renounce your vows as a priest, and I think that means you have to exit from the Catholic Church.

 

terry_mcdonough_final_service

Terry McDonough criticized the Archdiocese of Boston on Sunday as he led the final service at St. Frances X. Cabrini Church in Scituate, Mass. Credit M. Scott Brauer for The New York Times

 

Knowing this, the Times report uses a circumlocution to avoid having to assign a status to Mr. McDonough.

 

The leader of the service, Terry McDonough, criticized the Archdiocese. “The hierarchy has to lead, fall or get out of the way,” he said.

 

More sophistry from the parishioners.  The Archdiocese would say it had been leading, and it was the parishioners who neither followed nor got out of the way.  Then Mr. McDonough topped that sophistry with a cheap shot:

 

“That is the great tragedy: that those who have no children are destroying the spiritual homes of our children.”

 

If you would indict the priesthood because its members have no children, perhaps you should be in a different church than one whose priests all take a vow of celibacy.

 

Or perhaps you should be in a different church altogether.

 

 [Continued tomorrow in Part 7.]