Christian mystics drops plans to buy Adams Street mansion

Wicked Loca, Quincy Massachusetts/March 13, 2009

A religious order of Christian mystics abruptly abandoned plans to buy an Adams Street mansion after a firestorm of "classist" resistance from the neighborhood.

"The neighborhood group, even from the first meeting, was threatening to take us to court," the Rev. Mary Francis Drake said Thursday night. "I am kind of astonished at how unneighborly this neighborhood group is."

The Centers of Light’s decision to walk away from its deal to buy the seven-bedroom colonial at 301 Adams St. came two days after 100 residents packed a zoning board of appeals hearing to voice opposition.

Hospital Hill residents voiced concerns that converting the home into an order house with a 50-seat chapel would exacerbate traffic problems.

The Order of Christ/Sophia, as the religous group is formally known, intended to move from its rented house in Jamaica Plain. The group, which has chapters in 14 states, has weathered criticism and "cult" labels since its founding in 1999.

Ward 5 City Councilor Douglas Gutro, who represents the area, called the order’s decision a "huge victory." He said it "demonstrates the power of democracy when neighbors base their case on the realistic impacts of a use change that would be detrimental to their neighborhood."

This battle was the third the neighborhood has waged recently. In 2007, its protests thwarted plans for expansion of the William B. Rice Eventide Home. And a Montessori School was allowed to move into a colonial mansion on the street only after it sued the city.

Pointing to the school’s protracted struggle to win a needed zoning change, Drake said neighborhood homeowners have made "obstructionism" a trend.

"It really seems like a movement to keep nonprofits out," she said. "Frankly, it feels kind of classist."

Although the mansion has an assessed value of $1.7 million, Drake said the group had offered "substantially" less than the $1.2 million asking price.

Neighbors cheered the news of the religious order’s decision.

Jack Milgram, a lawyer who lives two blocks away on Puritan Drive, said the group’s "motives" were a mystery and he thought the residential property was ill-suited for religious purposes.

Paul Bonoli of Churchill Road said he was pleased that the group had not managed to alter the zoning under the "Dover amendment," a legal provision granting protections to religious and educational organizations.

"I am just as deeply concerned that another organization could come along" and attempt the same thing, he said.

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