Beacon hotel, event space could open in 2025
Just over two years after it was introduced, a proposal to convert the former Reformed Church of Beacon to a hotel, restaurant and event center called Prophecy Hall was approved by the Planning Board on Tuesday (Aug. 8).
The board voted 4-0 to approve a site plan and special-use permit that will allow a development group to transform the 164-year-old church into a venue for art, theater and music with an ancillary 50-seat restaurant. An adjacent parsonage will be renovated and expanded as a 30-room hotel. Thirty-three parking spaces will surround the hotel.
The Planning Board has seven members, but Donna Francis, who was appointed in March, abstained — “I don’t think I should bother,” she said, when asked for her vote — and Len Warner and Randall Williams were not present.
A special-use permit was required because the project, at 1113 Wolcott Ave. (Route 9D), is within Beacon’s protected historic district.
Board members last month said the project is consistent with the city’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and approved a “negative declaration” indicating that it will not adversely affect the environment.
The proposal drew considerable opposition from some residents, particularly those who live in four residential developments that surround the church, which closed in 2020. A public hearing was continued for nearly a year, with neighbors submitting a petition with more than 350 names opposing the project. The board also received hundreds of comments.
The proposal was downsized several times in response to concerns about noise and parking. The event space, which the Planning Board considered as an accessory to the hotel, was first presented as a 500-person venue; after being reduced four times, its maximum capacity now is 150.
Operating hours were also scaled back. There will be no events on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Programs on Thursdays and Sundays must end by 7:30 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays, by 8:30 p.m.
The restaurant must be closed during events with more than 100 attendees. If there are multiple events in a day — a tactic that opponents described as a workaround for the reduced capacity — there must be a two-hour break in between.
A smoking area has been designated in the parking lot. A number of noise-mitigating features, such as a brick wall with solid infill material near one property line, a cedar sound-mitigating fence at the parcel boundary to the north, acoustic glass inserts and a decibel limit on amplified sound, are also part of the plans.
Gavin Hecker, one of Prophecy’s owners, said Wednesday that he and his partners hope to have the hotel completed by 2025. The exterior of the church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will not change, he said.
Only religious events, such as worship services and weddings, will be allowed until the hotel receives its certificate of occupancy from the city. A plan to restore and maintain the historic cemetery behind the church must also be submitted to the Building Department before the hotel can open.
As a further condition of its approval, the Planning Board will require Prophecy to reapply for the special-use permit for the event space after it has been open for a year. A public hearing will be required, and a new traffic study must be submitted within the first nine months of operations.
Despite the changes to the application, board members Kevin Byrne and David Jensen said Tuesday that they were only reluctantly voting to approve.
“The original zoning intent didn’t contemplate this being used as an assembly space in the way that is being discussed,” Byrne said. But, “as skeptical as I remain, legally you have managed to conform to the requirements of the zoning.”
Byrne added that he does not think the mitigation efforts or the parking plan, which relies on nearby public lots to supplement the on-site spaces, will work out as expected. “I wish this was a different project,” he said.
But John Gunn, the Planning Board chair, said the back-and-forth over two years had been a testament to Beacon’s strong zoning laws and the flexibility of the community.
“It’s part of the evolution, it’s part of the growth” of the city, he said. “We’ve been able to absorb, accommodate and continue to be a thriving community even with countless contentious, concerning applications.”