Monastery brewery falls flat in Swampscott

Pictured is the entrance to the old Marian Court College.


SWAMPSCOTT — Plans to convert the former Marian Court College into an Orthodox Christian monastery, with a brewery on site, have been shelved.

Fr. Andrew Bushell, a Marblehead native and executive chairman of St. Paul’s Foundation, a monastic institution of the monks of Mount Athos in Greece, had a purchase agreement in place with the Sisters of Mercy, the current owners of the property at 35 Littles Point Road.

Bushell had until the end of December to close on the property, but did not follow through on what town officials said would have been a $4 million purchase.

“We decided not to move forward with the property,” Bushell said in an email on Tuesday.

Alice Poltorick, a spokeswoman for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community, said the property didn’t close.  

“He had until the end of the month,” Poltorick said. “No extension (was) asked for or granted … The property is for sale. It’s listed with a broker.”

Gino Cresta, interim town administrator, said Bushell had initially put down a $50,000 payment, and there was another large figure due at the end of December.

“He was waiting to see if he had the support of the town before he put the other part of the significant part of the deposit down,” Cresta said. “He’s not going forward with it.”

Bushell previously said that his decision to complete the purchase of the Marian Court property, also known as White Court, hinged on being able to build a small monastic brewery and cider house on the site, inside of what is now the Mercy Center. Plans also included establishing a warehouse in Lynn or Revere, which would be used for storage and larger deliveries.

Town officials were against the brewery aspect, arguing that zoning bylaws do not allow for one in the residential district where the former college is located. The college closed in June 2015 because of financial difficulties. The only uses allowed in that district without having to obtain a special permit are a single-family dwelling, a religious use, educational use, child care facility, agricultural use or facilities for the sale and production of dairy products from June to September, according to Peter Kane, director of community development.

Kane said in a previous interview that a brewery is not identified as an allowed use in Swampscott, and according to the town’s zoning bylaws, if a use is not specified, then it’s not allowed. Bushell argued that the brewery was allowed under the Dover Amendment exemption, the law that exempts agricultural, religious and educational corporations from certain zoning restrictions.

“A number of committees have submitted letters saying they wanted the town to buy the property,” Kane said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We’d have to go and ask Town Meeting to agree to purchase it.”

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the board would potentially discuss buying the property at their meeting tonight. She said there’s been a strong interest in town for the property being available for public use.

“I’d love to see that,” Dreeben said. “We’d just have to find a way to swing it financially. If it’s going to be for public use, then the public has to buy it.”

Cresta said there’s been other offers on the Marian Court property, but there are no other purchase agreements in place.

“I think it’s in our best interest to stay involved,” Cresta said. “But I don’t know how much say we can have in a private sale. We can make suggestions.”

The 6.2-acre White Court property is assessed at $7.8 million, including the two buildings and surrounding land, according to land records.

The former college is listed on LoopNet as a “spectacular oceanfront estate property in Swampscott” with CBRE/New England, which calls itself the worldwide leader in real estate services.  

“The property’s idyllic setting is perfect for housing, hospitality, or a continued educational or institutional use,” the listing reads. “Located in the desirable seaside community of Swampscott, 35 Littles Point Road offers investors, owners, developers and collectors a myriad of exciting restoration, adaptive reuse and development options.”

Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

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