Felician Sisters seek zoning changes for Enfield Street housing proposal

ENFIELD — Representatives from the Felician Sisters of North America will appear before the Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday to request necessary zoning changes for senior and multifamily residences on 26.8 acres at 1297 Enfield St.

The proposed change would convert the property’s HR-33 single family housing zone to a special development district.

The Felician Sisters are partnering with The Community Builders, a nonprofit development firm based in Boston. Their redevelopment plan for the property, where the sisters have had their convent for 90 years, would create an intergenerational campus that provides affordable senior housing and mixed-income multifamily housing.

In addition, the redevelopment plan includes community spaces and programming. The Felician Sisters have said their vision for the campus includes a health and wellness center, community room, community kitchen, retail, a chapel preserved for public use, walking paths, and the preservation of parade grounds.

The Felician Sisters went before the Planning and Zoning Commission in September 2021 for a public hearing on their application to build 330 apartments on the Enfield Street property. After hearing input from the community and commission members about increased noise, traffic and the appropriateness of a new development in the Historic District, the sisters withdrew their application in order to modify it.

The latest plan focuses on preserving the campus’ existing buildings and limiting new construction to the eastern part of the campus near I-91.

According to The Community Builders, a traffic study by engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill reports that existing roads and intersections will have the capacity to support projected traffic from the development.

The plan is to complete the project in phases over the next 10 years. The Community Builders will have a 99-year ground lease on the properties while the Felician Sisters will continue to own the campus land in perpetuity.

The Felician Sisters will continue to support the Enfield Montessori School and St. Francis Residence; The Community Builders will provide on-site management and operation of the campus.

“As we honored the Thompson Mansion by repurposing it, we hope to continue to honor the beauty and integrity of the buildings on the campus with wise decisions that lead to enhancing life for our Enfield community,” Sisters Mary Laureann Alexandrowicz and Anita Marie Taddonio said in a joint commentary piece.

Orrin Thompson, who established the Thompsonville Carpet Manufacturing Company in 1828, once owned the mansion where the campus is located. Thompson’s house was later owned by G. Harrison Mifflin, president of book publisher Houghton Mifflin. The sisterhood began small after purchasing the property and eventually grew to nearly 400 members on the campus.

But the sisterhood has declined over the years. Alexandrowicz and Taddonio said the sisters are facing what the future holds with too few members to support the long-term maintenance of the campus. “We now know the redevelopment of the campus is an opportunity to preserve the legacy of the Felician Sisters by continuing to do what we’ve always done — serving our community,” they said.

Enfield has a need for affordable housing, according to Alexandrowicz and Taddonio. They said it’s estimated there are over 1,000 fewer rental units available to households earning between $35,000 and $50,000 than are living in the town.