By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — The old church at Turner Hill is ready to be torn down.
Contractors have recently stripped the roof and removed all the doors and windows to prepare for its demolition, which paves the way for the final phase of the private golf and residential community to be known as The Gardens. Proposed plans call for 10 duplex units to take the place of the former church.
While for some the church evokes memories of services once held at the former Catholic shrine and seminary, others see it as a sign of continued revenue growth in town. The high-profile project has been on hold for years as the development group waited for the real estate market to turn around and to further develop a new master plan, said John Gillis, project manager.
“We are getting a lot of interest in the property,” he said. “We do see the market for lifestyle condominiums picking up.” Plans to move forward with the project are expected to be presented at a Planning Board meeting in March, he said.
Turner Hill is one of four well-known former estates in town. The Elizabethan-style mansion was built in 1903 by Charles Goodnough Rice and his wife, Anne. It now serves as a plush function hall and clubhouse for the country club. The club is owned by its members, but homeowners on the property have options for membership.
The Rice family sold the 311-acre property in 1943 to the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, which built a shrine and the church for both outdoor and indoor services, and opened a seminary graduate school. In the 1950s and 1960s, people from near and far would come to pray at the three statues of the Blessed Mother.
Developer Ted Raymond bought the church property in 1997 and built the golf course and started the housing development. After running out of money, he sold the unfinished development to well-known developer Eyk van Otterloo for $15 million in 2007.
The church, built in the 1950s, is not considered historical and has been desanctified by the Catholic church, Gillis said. There were initial plans to turn it into housing.
“They had looked into it,” Gillis said, “but to redevelop the church as it sits on the property now and the dimensions of the building made it difficult to convert it into residential units.”
Paul Grenier, 75, of Ipswich, remembers going to church services on the La Salette property with his mother growing up, mostly in the summer. He said it was a “mix of nostalgia and sadness” when he recently saw the church stripped and ready to be torn down.
He said the services held there were always peaceful.
“It was a pleasant experience,” he said. “They would have the rosary outdoors and a procession would take place around the property and end in the church for a benediction.”
Gillis said the garden parcel is located in a prime spot on the property.
“It is right next to the mansion with views of the east and west ponds,” he said.
The company is also proposing to finishing the other two residential sections of the property, known as The Hill and The Village. Windover Construction has been hired to help develop the master plan for the property.
Right now, there are 14 duplex units and 14 single-family homes on the hill. Developers are proposing to build 16 more single-family homes there, Gillis said.
He said original plans for the village area called for 51 townhouse units in a very dense area. The new proposed plans, which will be presented to the Planning Board some time in March, call for 19 smaller single-family homes. There are currently 18 townhouses there now, Gillis said.
All single-family homes and units are considered part of the condominium association, which includes several amenities depending on what a homeowner is looking for. There are tennis courts, paddle courts, a bowling alley, swimming pool and fitness center — and, of course, golf.
There are also two restaurants on the property.
“It is going to be a lifestyle you buy into,” Gillis said. “It is a very welcoming community.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.