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Property status still up in the air; WRA studies old deed restrictions.

Byline: Milton J. Valencia

WORCESTER - The Worcester Redevelopment Authority will research sales of a historic chapel back to 1993 - when the quasi-city agency first seized the property by eminent domain - in hopes of clarifying the records, Julie Jacobsen told board members yesterday.

The authority owned the Mission Chapel until it was sold in 1998 to a private developer for less than $100, with the stipulation the developer restore the Summer Street building within two years. Six years later, in 2004, the developer sold the land for $350,000, with no visible work completed. The property remains boarded up, and the latest owner, Kurosh Mizrahi, is now trying to sell it.

Ms. Jacobsen, who heads the WRA through her role as assistant city manager in charge of economic development, told the WRA board yesterday she would like to see the parcel developed, possibly by a new owner.

But the sale of the building over recent years could have legal implications on the property deed; past deed restrictions required the land be developed within a certain time frame. Ms. Jacobsen said several city departments, led by Deputy City Solicitor Michael Traynor, have been researching the building's history, past Worcester Redevelopment Authority votes and deed restrictions.

"We're trying to decide what the current legal status of the property is, No. 1," Mr. Traynor said during yesterday's meeting.

The chapel was built in 1854 by Ichabod Washburn, a deacon with the original Evangelical City Missionary Society. It remained as a place of worship until it was used as commercial space in the 1900s. Mr. Washburn built the chapel for the growing immigrant population, according to Preservation Worcester records.

In 1966, the Second Baptist Church bought the property as a place of worship, bringing the building back to its original use.

In 1993, the Redevelopment Authority took the property by eminent domain to make way for the massive Worcester Medical Center project. The agency paid out some $600,000 for the property and relocation expenses for the congregation.

The building never became part of the Worcester Medical Center project after preservation groups protested its demolition. It was vacant for several years. Authority members said at the time the WRA couldn't afford the $1 million needed in restoration.

In 1998, the authority sold the property to PZP, LLC, a private developer, for less than $100 with the promise the building would be restored as office space within two years. The sale was seen as a way to facilitate the building's renovation.

But Code Enforcement Department records show no permits were ever issued for renovation or construction, and the building remains boarded up.

Yesterday, Ms. Jacobsen said t the WRA in 2001 amended its original land disposition agreement allowing PZP to expand its original plans for the building, to include a restaurant. Several years later, the disposition agreement was amended again allowing for the sale to Mr. Mizrahi.

Ms. Jacobsen said the terms of the original land disposition agreement remain in confusion, however; particularly whether the sale of the building, and its lack of development, violated deed restrictions.

Mr. Traynor said yesterday there are provisions in the original deed that allow the redevelopment authority to seize the property if the disposition agreement is not followed. The WRA would have to notify the current owner of its intent, however, giving him a grace period to be in to compliance with the disposition agreement.

Ms. Jacobsen said city agencies will review the original agreement, along with past WRA votes, to clarify the property's status.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 21, 2007
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