Pelhamwood Assn., Friends of Residential Pelham battle apartment building proposed for Community Church property


Artist’s rendering of apartment building (rear) and renovated Community Church of the Pelhams proposed by the developer and the church. View is looking east on Washington Avenue.

The Pelhamwood Association and a new group called the Friends of Residential Pelham are campaigning against a five-story apartment building proposed for the parking lot of the Community Church of the Pelhams.

The Friends of Residential Pelham issued a letter explaining the group’s grievances with the project that has already collected the signatures of 400 residents. “We, the undersigned, are writing to object, in the strongest terms, to the plan to rezone 448 Washington Ave., the Community Church of the Pelhams property in the residential neighborhood of Pelhamwood,” said the document.

Developer Soren R.E. LLC has proposed the construction of the apartment building along with coworking space next to the Community Church, while also promising to provide the the 100-year-old church with a “seven-figure” renovation it requires. Former Pelham Mayor Michael Volpe is a principal in Soren R.E.

Daniel Bollin, president of the Pelhamwood Association, said, Soren R.E. “proposes that we change zoning on a parcel of land that sits squarely on a residential area. A change like this would be unprecedented in our village and runs counter to the village’s comprehensive plan.”

“The developers want to take a big step to rezone this property in an extreme way,” he said. “It’s a big deal. Something like this should be initiated by the village government and the community, not a single developer who wants to make money. This isn’t a Pelhamwood issue—this is a town issue.”

David Cooper, partner in Zarin & Steinmetz, which is the law firm representing Soren R.E., said the benefits to the proposal would be twofold. “With this project we have the goal of saving the building and sustaining the church and the uses it provides—daycare, etc.,” Cooper said. “What I think is exciting about this partnership is that we can invest into this church, keeping the church building as it is, upgrading it so it can continue to provide its services to the community and introduce residential units in a good location—a type of new senior housing that the village really needs. This is a great opportunity to both preserve the church and introduce housing that can service the community.”

The apartments would be targeted to a senior population; 80% of its units must be occupied by one resident who is at least 55 years old, according to the proposal. As part of the deal, the church would undergo major renovations, including replacement of the roof, repairs to the storm-damaged basement floor, and upgrades to heating and air conditioning systems and disability access, according to the developer’s filing with the village.

The first step in consideration of the proposal was a review by the Village of Pelham Planning Board Nov. 16. After the planning board has weighed in, the Village of Pelham Board of Trustees would have to vote to amend the zoning ordinance to add the new mixed use (MX) zone proposed by the developers to the ordinance and then rezone the church property, which is currently zoned residential A-2, as are all the properties in surrounding Pelhamwood. The MX zone would allow parcels of 30,000 square feet or larger to combine a house of worship, apartments, offices and child-care services.

Bollin said he understands the need to renovate the church. “Maintaining that church structure is absolutely something that we support fully,” he said. “It’s just the manner in which we go about supporting the building. We have already initiated discussions with the church and members of businesses in Pelham. We are interested in seeing what a more sensible plan should look like. It will take a village to explore a myriad of options.”

Pelhamwood resident Jerry Colkin said he appreciates how the project is “shining light on the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the Community Church.” Another resident, Thomas Fear, reacted similarly, saying, “I, like many of my neighbors, understand that the building is in need of repairs—and has been for over a decade—and that the church’s board is free to do as it sees fit for the benefit of its congregation.” However, Fear added, “The size and scope of this development simply doesn’t keep in the character of Pelhamwood.” 

It’s preservation of character that residents seemed to cite the most, which is something Bollin agrees with. “It’s things like the clock tower and the church that define this neighborhood,” he said. “It would be a shame if any of those things were to be altered.”