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New Plans For Dunkin' Donuts Near Shuttered Pittsfield Church

Jim Levulis
St. Mary the Morning Star Church on Tyler St. in Pittsfield, Mass. has been closed since 2008.

The Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee that had planned to demolish a Pittsfield church and build a drive-thru restaurant has submitted plans that would spare the steeple.Cafua Management is looking to build a 2,100-square foot drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of Tyler and Plunkett Streets in Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood. To do so, the former rectory and convent near St. Mary The Morning Star church would be demolished.

Darcie Sosa is the communications director for the Friends of St. Mary’s, an ad-hoc committee that formed last year after Cafua submitted plans to raze the 9,600-square foot St. Mary The Morning Star church.

“Right now we just want to make sure that if this does happen, if they get the special permits and the approval to demo the other two buildings that the church gets repurposed and that they’re willing to give it to somebody that can use it,” said Sosa.

The company, which owns all or part of some 300 Dunkin’ Donuts nationwide including four in Pittsfield, backed down in September 2014 following outcry from the group and other community members. Cafua even offered to donate the church to the city — a plan that hasn’t panned out. Mayor Dan Bianchi said the city is not in a position to take on such a liability.

“We’d be more than happy to work with developers regardless of what happens, but for the city to take on a liability of that magnitude...we wouldn’t be willing to do that,” said Bianchi.

Altogether five shuttered buildings stand on the 2.6-acre property owned by the Catholic Diocese of Springfield. Cafua is under agreement with the Diocese to build the restaurant, according to the plan application. The property has cost the Pittsfield Catholic community more than $200,000 after the nearly 75-year-old church closed in 2008. Any money from a sale stays in the local Catholic community.

Working with the state, Pittsfield recently launched an initiative to reinvigorate the Morningside neighborhood, which sits next to the former General Electric facility that was the engine of the city’s economy in the latter half of the 20th century. Mayor Bianchi says the Dunkin’ Donuts proposal impacts that effort.

“I think obviously that will shift the focus somewhere else,” Bianchi said. “I appreciate businesses wanting to develop in the area, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the highest and best use. I don’t believe that it’s in the greatest keeping of the intent of our master plan and probably the TDI process as well. Not to say there aren’t other options or maybe more appropriate spots.”

The drive-thru requires a special permit from the city council, which has snagged Cafua in the past. The two are awaiting a decision from Massachusetts Land Court on Cafua’s appeal of the council’s permit rejection for a drive-thru on First St. where the company demolished the former Plunkett Elementary School in 2014. Bianchi expects that decision by the end of September.

Councilor Kevin Morandi represents part of the Morningside neighborhood. He says he would not support a special permit for the drive-thru.

“This is a real close-knit community, a neighborhood with a lot of small mom and pop stores and residential areas,” Morandi said. “To me this doesn’t fit in there.”

Sosa says the group’s attempts to reach out to Cafua have been unsuccessful. Using a new website, the Friends are marketing the church to organizations interested in redeveloping it. The committee plans to meet soon to determine next steps regarding the current proposal.

“Ideally we want to save both parcels and all the buildings, but sometimes you have to be willing to work with people,” Sosa said. “Our biggest concern right now is making sure that church doesn’t sit there and rot away.”

A message to Cafua Management was not returned.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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