The Hingham Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is just two approvals away from renovating its Ward Street facility, and hopes are high for what the renovation could bring.
Plans call for tearing down the existing two-floor facility and replacing it with a single-story building. And though some will be sad to see the 42-year-old structure go, the project’s engineer said the new facilities will benefit both the congregation and the neigh-borhood.
“There are some major improvements,” said Steven Gioiosa, president of SITEC Engineering and the point person for the project. “We’ve got an older septic that needs to be upgraded. They will put in a brand new system that will comply with current regulations.
“They will upgrade the storm water system. . . so there will be better treatment and better control of runoff. Plus a new parking lot, new building — overall it will be a pretty significant upgrade.”
The project received Planning Board approval on Nov. 19. On Monday, it’s expected to get the go-ahead from Conservation Commission staff, which would enable the applicant to get Board of Health approval to construct a disposal system on site.
Church officials did not return repeated calls for comment. However, plans for the 6.3-acre site currently call for the removal of the current building, constructed in 1971, according to assessing records, and removal of the parking lot in order to construct an entirely new space.
Though the footprint would expand due to the single-story change, the square footage of the building — roughly 4,952 square feet — would remain the same. Along those lines, the building is expected to maintain the 173 seats that it currently has.
Landscaping would be added as a barrier between the church and the surrounding residences, and the existing church sign would stay.
The improvements include a better collection system for storm water runoff, which currently just flows right into the street. The storm water also would be treated once it is collected.
The parking lot would be reconfigured. Although the number of spaces would be reduced to 58 from 68, the traffic will flow much better than it does now, Sneath said.
“The parking is now conforming to zoning. I think it was just one of those old parking lots that didn’t have a lot of rhyme or reason,” said Judy Sneath, chairman of the Planning Board.
According to Gioiosa, having everything on one story will improve handicap access, and the architecture of the building will conform to the surrounding houses.
“It will tie in to the residential style of the neighborhood, so architecturally it will fit in,” he said.
With luck, construction on the project would most likely start in the spring.
Already, neighbors are optimistic.
“As neighbors, generally speaking [the congregation has] always been great. . . and I actually went to one of the Town Meetings’’ about the project, said Diane Ahern, a Ward Street resident. “We were concerned about drainage, lights, traffic, and I left very pleased with what they are planning to do. The drainage looks like it will be better, the lights will stay the same.”
Although the project has yet to come before the Conservation Commission, commission chairwoman Carolyn Nielsen said she doesn’t expect problems to arise during the final steps of the process.
“This is a pretty straightforward one, and I don’t anticipate there’s any unexpected or difficult challenges with it,” she said.
She added, “Neighbors have mostly come and listen and just make sure storm water is managed properly and septic is going to function like it should.”
The wetlands on the edge of the site are also minimal.
Due to the religious use of the property, the project falls under the state’s Dover Amendment, which frees educational or religious projects from many zoning regulations.
As a result, the project does not need special permit review, and can move forward with approvals from the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, and Board of Health.
The project even received praise from a peer review of the project, conducted by Chessia Consulting Services LLC.
“It looks, at least from proposals, that it will be an improvement over existing conditions,” Nielsen said. “Not that there are any problems, but the engineers seem to have done a respectable job improving conditions on the site.”