Stratford Design Council advances Masonic Temple apartment proposal

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STRATFORD — The owners of the former Masonic Temple are set to convert the 102-year-old building into an apartment complex.

The Architectural Review Board voted unanimously last week to approve plans to expand and redevelop the Main Street structure into a 38-unit residential building.

But the five-member advisory board, which is responsible for ensuring projects meet city design guidelines, recommended that owners reconsider several aspects of the proposal, including plans to build a three stories above a series of columns.

The commission expressed concern that the use of load-bearing columns, which would allow a parking garage to be installed under the addition, would make the building appear to float above the ground.

“It just doesn’t work,” said board member Tom Szarkowicz. “You have this huge mass on these skinny columns. And I appreciate the screen wall attempt, but it really doesn’t get the mass down the way it should.

Dubbed “Temple Court Town Homes,” the owners are proposing to renovate the interior of the building and build an extension to the rear that would double the size of the old temple.

The proposal was submitted under the city’s transit-oriented development regulations, which allow apartments in certain areas along Main Street near Stratford station.

Architectural plans show that the existing building would be largely gutted to make way for 17 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The renovated temple would also include retail space on the first floor for a small cafe or similar business.

At the rear of the property, the owners plan to build a three-story addition that would house 21 apartments and stand above a garage with around two dozen parking spaces. The entire site would include 43 parking spaces.

Like the existing building, the three-story addition would consist of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The roof would also be covered with solar panels to help power the complex.

George Wiles, an architect working on the project, said the addition would largely match the red brick design scheme of the existing building, which will remain unchanged if the proposed apartment project is approved.

In addition to the recommendation for the columns of the building, the council also suggested the owners incorporate design elements from the existing building into the expansion, improve the landscaping with more diverse vegetation, include a Pedestrian access from the rear of the building to the station and ensuring the retail space is highlighted.

“Our mission is to…ensure that we are stewards of the built environment here in the city, and we take it seriously, especially when it comes to projects right here on Main Street,” said President James Millward.

Barry Knott, a solicitor representing property owners James and Dianne Colgan, pushed back against the council’s criticism and suggested their concerns were “much ado about nothing”.

“This is the smallest transit-focused project ever before this city,” he said. “There is no residential property affected by this other than the people sleeping at the Union Cemetery.”

The building, which was constructed in 1920, was originally the home of the temple’s local Masonic Association before becoming medical offices. Property records show the Colgans bought the old temple for more than $1 million in 2016.

The Stratford Zoning Commission, which will have the final say on the proposal, is due to review the project at its October 26 meeting.

Richard Chumney can be reached at [email protected]

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