A developer’s plan to convert a shuttered Catholic school into condominiums won a key zoning approval Tuesday, likely clearing the way for construction to begin on the controversial South Boston project later this year.
Dorchester developer Oranmore Enterprises LLC has proposed putting 26 condos into the four-story Gate of Heaven Catholic school, which closed in 2008. Its plan won preliminary approval from City Hall in March, and at hearing Tuesday, Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted to approve several remaining zoning exceptions the project needed to proceed.
“I think it’s good for the community,” said Michael Moore, the project’s manager. “We’ve invested a lot of time and energy and money into the process, so it’s absolutely satisfying to see it get resolved.”
Moore said the only hurdle remaining is obtaining a routine building permit, and that he expects to begin construction in September.
Though the project is modest in scope compared to other developments underway in the city, a highly vocal group of South Boston residents has maneuvered to block it at every turn, saying the development would overcrowd the area and calling it a symbol of the neighborhood’s ongoing gentrification.
Last year, the Gate of Heaven Neighborhood Association persuaded City Hall to put the development on hold for months while residents unsuccessfully searched for a charter school to take over the building instead.
That “cooling off period” came to an abrupt end in March, when Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration allowed the project to come before the Boston Redevelopment Authority for approval, enraging neighbors who say they had been assured the project was dead. Since then, Walsh’s administration has issued terse statements insisting that the project needs to go forward before the rundown building decays further or the real estate market declines.
“I do understand there is an element in the community that wanted to see a school there, but it just wasn’t viable,” Moore said. “If it was, it would have happened.”
Dozens of neighbors showed up for the hearing Tuesday, handing over a petition against the project they said contained 2,000 signatures — to no avail.
“We’re very disappointed in the mayor,” said Kevin Lally, the neighborhood group’s leader. “He’s turned his back on the schoolchildren of South Boston.”
Lally said his group had hired a lawyer and is now planning to sue Oranmore Enterprises in a last-ditch attempt to block the project.