Church off 101 gets initial design review

Architect describe plan for Divine Mercy

PETERBOROUGH — Planning Board members asked about parking and traffic issues Monday during a preliminary design review of Divine Mercy Parish’s proposal to build a new church and function hall off Route 101. But they stopped short of requiring the parish to supply a traffic study.

Church officials are planning a 312-seat church and a 152-seat function hall on a seven-acre site off Route 101 near Lobacki Drive. The lot would be subdivided from a 14-acre plot owned by Jack Belletete of Jaffrey, who had at one time planned to build condominium units on the site. In September, the Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a special exception to allow a church to be built in the general residence district and granted a variance to allow the access road to the buildings to run through a section of the lot that’s in the shoreland conservation district.

“Our family has grown and our facilities have not,” the Rev. Gerald Belanger, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish, told the board “We need something that will be accessible to everyone.”

The Catholic parish, which was formed seven years ago when St. Peter Parish of Peterborough, St. Patrick Parish in Bennington and the summer parish of St. Denis in Harrisville were merged, now serves about 830 families from several area towns.

The site plan calls for a private driveway from Route 101 leading to the church’s parking lot. The church will connect to town water. Belletete told the Planning Board that he will provide a sewer connection for the church’s buildings. He said he is working on options to develop the remaining seven acres at the site in the future.

Architect Jonathan Halle, from the Concord firm Warren Street Architects, said the building will be “very Peterborough in my mind,” with a simple brick and clapboard facade. It will have a 175-foot steeple, but will be set well back from the road. Halle and Belanger said stained glass windows from the parish’s current sanctuary on Vine Street in Peterborough may be used inside the new sanctuary, but the exterior windows will be plain glass.

The proposed access driveway will lead to a 125-space parking lot that will be in front and on one side of the church buildings. The parish’s project manager, Chris Nadeau of Nobis Engineering, said the parking is sited to allow easy access for churchgoers, who will be able to walk directly into the sanctuary rather than having to walk up from a lot behind the building. Acting Planning Board Chair Ivy Vann said the board generally prefers to have parking behind buildings but board members Rich Clark and Alan Zeller said they weren’t concerned about the location of the lot.

Vann also asked if the designers had considered using a pervious parking surface that would allow water to leach through, rather than asphalt.

“I’ve had first-hand experience with the lack of stability of pervious paving,” said Nadeau, adding that traditional paving materials work best and would be supplemented by rain gardens and other drainage tools.

“It’s a lot of asphalt,” Vann said, noting that a final parking lot plan will need to include additional landscaping.

When asked about traffic issues, Nadeau said the church’s highest volume would be on Saturday evenings and Sundays, which are not peak traffic times. He said the state Department of Transportation has given approval for a curb cut on Route 101 and will require the church to widen the shoulder on the westbound lane of the highway to give additional room for drivers to go around cars turning left into the church. He said the state had determined that traffic volume would not require a designated right turn lane.

“If the DOT doesn’t require [a traffic study], we don’t need it,” said board member Alan Zeller, and the board voted, 4-1, to accept the Department of Transportation’s recommendation in lieu of a traffic study.

Based on the feedback from the meeting, church officials will update their plans prior to seeking formal site plan approval. Belanger said at earlier meetings that he hopes to get approvals in time to break ground in March next year.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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