HAVERHILL — Six years ago, the city rejected a proposal that would have replaced a historic church building at the corner of Main and Winter streets across from City Hall with a Burger King.

Now there's a proposal to build a strip mall there that would include a Domino's Pizza. 

City officials said nothing is certain at this time because the proposal is still in its infancy.

William Pillsbury, the city's economic and development director, said a business owner dropped off drawings to the building inspector's office showing a Domino's and a small strip mall. But Pillsbury said a formal, complete application has not yet been submitted to the city for review.

Pillsbury said the proposal comes from the owner of the Domino's Pizza at Dudley Plaza on Main Street, who he said is looking to relocate to the site across from City Hall. 

"The building inspector hasn't determined if this proposal is compliant with zoning or if any zoning variances will be required as he has not received a formal zoning review by the applicant," Pillsbury said. "What they have provided is incomplete."

He said that as part of the process, the city's Historical Commission would review the project to determine if it is appropriate because the church is on the National Register of Historic Places and is in the Main Street Historic District. Only after that would a public hearing be held, Pillsbury said.

Andrew Herlihy, division director for the city's Community Development Block Grant program, said he obtained a legal opinion that the project cannot be discussed by the Historical Commission at this time.

"We don't want to prejudice a public hearing, which will be announced in the future," Herlihy said.

Leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church at Hye Pointe, which owns the former St. Gregory the Illuminator Apostolic Church at 110 Main St., have said they want to sell the building to help fund construction of a new church at 1280 Boston Road in Bradford.

The Parish Council at the Armenian Apostolic Church at Hye Pointe planned to hold an open meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. to discuss the sale of the old church, construction of a Family Life and Cultural Center and mortgage issues.

The Church at Hye Pointe formed in 2002 when St. Gregory the Illuminator and Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Church in Lawrence merged.

Pillsbury said the process of replacing the church with something else would be similar to that of a project by the YMCA that involved demolishing the old Wadleigh House on Main Street next to the Laundry Day laundromat and replacing it with a historically appropriate structure that fit the architectural style of the Main Street Historic District. 

"The same procedure will have to apply here, and that process has not yet begun," Pillsbury said.

E. Phillip Brown, interim chairman of the Haverhill Historical Commission, said the commission serves in an advisory capacity and is concerned about the circa 1848 church being replaced by a Domino's. 

The site of the church is where Haverhill's settlers once held town meetings, according to local historians.

In November of 2010, the city's Board of Appeals unanimously rejected a proposal to build a Burger King with a drive-thru lane at the site of the church.

In rejecting the Burger King, board members cited worries about increased traffic at Winter and Main streets, deemed one of the most dangerous intersections in the state, according to Pillsbury.

The historical commission, lamenting the demolition of a historic church, urged that another use for the property be found. 

Pillsbury said the proposal for a Burger King did not meet the requirements for a variance from the zoning ordinance to build a drive-through. 

He said the applicant did not face a "unique" problem because of the topography or shape of the lot; the church would not suffer a "substantial hardship" without the variance; and a fast-food restaurant would have been a "detriment to the public good."

In 2003, the St. Gregory Church, along with 10 other sites between GAR Park and Monument Square, were accepted into the National Register of Historic Places. Being listed there makes buildings eligible for tax breaks and federal grant money. 

In order to prevent changes to such historic buildings, a community also must establish a historic district commission for that area, such as the ones that exist in Bradford and Rocks Village. Haverhill did not establish such a commission for the area that includes St. Gregory Church.

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