Divine Mercy Parish ready to build along 101

Seeking special exceptions, variance; church on Vine Street could go on the market, if plan goes through

PETERBOROUGH — After a successful capital campaign raised about $1.4 million in pledges and donations, members of Divine Mercy Parish are moving ahead with plans to build a new Catholic church on land just off Route 101 near the intersection with Elm Hill Road.

On Wednesday, church officials will be going before the Peterborough Zoning Board of Adjustment, requesting two special exceptions and a variance that would allow them to proceed with plans for a 300-seat church and a separate hall with 140 to 150 seats. The two buildings would be connected by a corridor that would contain church offices.

“The campaign’s given us enough confidence to make some initial plans,” said the Rev. Gerald Belanger, pastor for Divine Mercy Parish. “We’re ready to purchase the land, but we haven’t done that yet. Obviously we need to get these approvals first.”

The church is planning to buy about seven acres of the 14-acre parcel known as the Wilson Farm, off Route 101 near Lobacki Drive. The current lot would be subdivided, according to a memo to the ZBA from Dario Carrara, the town’s zoning administrator, and the remaining seven acres would be for future residential development.

Divine Mercy Parish is seeking a special exception to allow a church to be built on the property, which is in the general residential district. A second special exception is being requested to allow a realignment of an existing entrance road and install utilities in the shoreland conservation zone.

A similar special exception, which has now expired, was approved in 2007 for a residential project on the land that was never constructed. The variance request asks the ZBA to approve reducing the minimum frontage requirement along Route 101 to 86 feet.

Belanger said the design for the church is still in a preliminary stage and will not be finalized until feedback from town boards is reviewed and final approval is obtained. An architect’s rendering submitted to the ZBA by Warren Street Architects of Concord show a clapboard-sided structure with a brick-faced entryway and a tower holding a stained glass window and supporting a tall steeple.

“We want the building to be unmistakable as a church,” Belanger said. “We’re looking at spending something in the neighborhood of $2 million. We may have to trim a bit if we find we have a $2 million budget with a $3 million appetite.”

Belanger said the building will be set back from the road.

“You will not see it from 101, particularly when leaves are on the trees,” he said. “But the steeple should be noticeable.”

Divine Mercy Parish was established in 2006, when St. Peter Parish of Peterborough, St. Patrick Parish in Bennington and the summer parish of St. Denis in Harrisville were merged in a reorganization by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.

Belanger said about 830 families from nine area towns are members of the congregation.

The church’s sanctuary building on Vine Street in Peterborough is too small to accommodate the number of worshipers. With approval from Bishop Peter Libasci, the church began a fundraising campaign in January.

Belanger said church members are continuing to raise money. The parish will be able to draw on money it has placed in reserve in the central fund that all New Hampshire Roman Catholic churches contribute to. The central fund will also be an option for a loan if one is required.

“All the money that Divine Mercy has put into the central fund is ours and can be used,” Belanger said. “The central fund can also make loans at competitive rates. The security is that the fund is owned by the church. That provides a safety net.”

Belanger said the former St. Patrick Church in Bennington has been on the market for a while and the properties on Vine Street in Peterborough will go on the market once the parish’s plans are finalized.

“We’ve already had some people speak to us about it,” Belanger said about the Vine Street church. “Right now, it’s not on the market, because we can’t guarantee we’ll be out by any specific date.

The church building in Peterborough was constructed in the 1870s and dedicated and named for St. Peter in 1876, according to a church history.

“It’s the original building,” Belanger said. “At some point a sacristy where we prepare for worship was added, and the interior was modified a bit in the early 1970s.”

Belanger said contractors have estimated that construction of the new church would take about nine months.

“If all goes well and we get the approvals we need, we’d hope to be into the ground around mid-March next year,” he said. “We could conceivably be in our new building for Christmas in 2014.”

Wednesday’s ZBA meeting is at 7 p.m. in the Town House.

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