June 14, 2018

Last-ditch injunction hearing urges Notre Dame preservation

Photo | Grant Welker
The Notre Dame des Canadiens church.

A Worcester Superior Court judge made no immediate decision Thursday on a request for an injunction from a group hoping to save the Notre Dame des Canadiens church in Worcester from the wrecking ball, claiming an environmental review process must take place before it can be taken down.

After a court hearing of about an hour, Judge Gavin Reardon took the issue under advisement. Reardon will render his decision on the injunction after he weighs both arguments.

At issue is an environmental impact review process per Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) regulations required for projects receiving state funding.

Worcester-based attorney Robert Scott, on behalf of the Save Notre Dame Alliance, said because state money is being used in CitySquare II's project and the historic structure's listing as such requires an impact review by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

CitySquare II, an entity backed by The Hanover Insurance Group, at one point was the main landholder of the public/private $565-million downtown revitalization project dubbed CitySquare.

The church, built in 1929, is slated for demolition, but the alliance has been urging the city and others to come up with a non-demolition scenario. The Worcester City Council has passed on spending taxpayer money to do so, and an injunction to stall demolition and find a private developer may be their last hope, Scott said after the hearing.

According to legal filings, EOEEA Secretary Matthew Beaton informed Roseland Residential Trust -- a prospective developer of apartments on the site -- that no review would be required.

However, Scott argued in court and in filings Beaton was essentially wrong, and Roseland's correspondence did not inform Beaton the property was listed in the Inventory of Historic and Archaeological Assets of the state.

By knocking the building down without review and skirting regulations while all other funding has been spent and permits approved, CitySquare II and the project would be undermining state law, Scott said.

"If that happens, you've essentially nullified your duty under the statute," he said.

Further, Scott argued CitySquare misled Beaton by not specifically saying they intended to demolish the building, which they did not note as a historic structure.

That responsibility, he said, falls on the developer.

Mark Cahill, an attorney representing CitySquare II, said Scott's argument on behalf of the group is wrong, as a matter of law.

None of the requirements in the regulations are met, Cahill added, calling on the court to remember Beaton's letter saying there is no requirement for MEPA review in this case.

"There is no state agency involved in this project, and we are not within the meaning of MEPA," he said.

He commented he respects the passionate efforts to save the building, but legally, there is no standing.

"Here, the argument fails, and it fails by a longshot," he said.


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