A major redevelopment of the St. Joseph Church property on South Main Street was discussed by its proposer with the Planning and Zoning Commission at their October 3 meeting. If his plans can be carried out, all three buildings will be converted to house apartments, with no change to their external appearance. The proposal would not require approval from the Historic District Commission.
James McMahon, a businessman from Guilford, Conn., has been working on the project with Sacred Heart Church, which has controlled St. Joseph’s since the two churches were consolidated in 2017. If his plans can be approved by PZC, he will begin the project with the sanctuary, dedicated in 1952, and address the 1860 rectory and the convent next.
McMahon described his plans in a friendly and enthusiastic discussion with this reporter. Driving through Suffield, he said he was impressed with the general look of the town, and he saw the “for sale” sign in front of the church. His son has been commuting north for his employment, and the opportunity on South Main Street would provide him with a home in the proposed redevelopment.
In the present plans, the sanctuary building would contain apartments on three floors: the lower level, the former sanctuary level, and a new third level, built as an expansion of the choir loft. The building would accommodate 12 one- and two-bedroom apartments, two of them meeting the Connecticut standards for affordability. The two-story convent might house two more apartments, or possibly only one. The old rectory, built as a mansion for Charles Loomis, the son of a major tobacco baron in Suffield, could provide two capacious apartments.
The overall property consists of two parcels: A 16.2-acre parcel contains the mansion, the convent, and two outbuildings. This parcel extends to the east, past the end of Barry Place, next door. A large barn on this parcel, behind the mansion, had been nicely converted in 1916 to become the new church for the large Polish-American population in town. It served that purpose well for 36 years, but soon the congregation began raising money for a more permanent building. The present sanctuary occupies a 0.9-acre parcel purchased in 1951 for that purpose. The new building, opened in 1952, served 65 years, plus a few more for special events.
Asked about his plans for the remaining acreage to the east, McMahon said he had taken steps to define the limited wetland portion of that area, but he has no plans yet for possible development of the buildable region.
The buildings’ redevelopment plan is viewed by many as the next best plan, now that the church is closed to normal use. But a Suffield neighborhood group, though pleased with the plan as described, has discovered troubling information about the developer in the records of other towns and the state court system. The group has passed that information to the town planner for his informed review.