City Negotiates with Church, ZBA to Deliberate

While the West U City Council negotiates with West University Baptist Church, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will deliberate Thursday on two special exceptions sought by the church for its new Youth Ministry Facility.

The council on Monday held a brief executive session on real estate negotiations with the church, over a possible land swap of city-owned property on Milton St. for church-owned property on Amherst St.

The potential land swap involves the controversial “Super Block,” in the city’s long-range plan for Municipal Facilities.

City Manager Michael Ross said that during the executive session, “We were briefing the council on the negotiations between the city and the church. We hope to have something for the council to discuss in March, and a proposal in April.”

West U Mayor Bob Fry said he hopes that the council “would like to get this done before we go out of office. The church needs to move (on their plan to build a new Youth Center.) They’re going to get it done — either on Amherst or Milton.”

Meanwhile, West University Baptist Church has filed two notices of applications for special exceptions that will be heard Thursday by the West U Zoning Board of Adjustment. The church’s applications, filed by Senior Pastor Roger Patterson, strongly indicate that the church plans to build a new 7,200 square foot Youth Ministry Facility on city-owned property on Milton, and a new parking lot on Amherst.

The first notice, for the Youth Center, states: “ West U Baptist Church (6218 Auden St) is seeking a special exception to locate a youth ministry facility and adjacent parking area on the building site (3 lots) located at 3826 Milton Street (Northeast corner of College and Milton St.). The ordinance allows places of worship and their normal uses, including parking, in any zoning district, but requires assembly type occupancies to obtain a special exception for high density occupancy and accessory uses when located in a single family district.”

In its second notice of application, the church states: “West U Baptist Church (6218 Auden St) is seeking a special exception to locate a parking area on the building site (3 lots) located at 3821/3831 Amherst Street.”

The city of West U recently mailed a random survey to 1,300 residents, to gather public input about the city’s long-range Master Plan for City Facilities. The plan, which has generated controversy from many residents, calls for the creation of a “Super Block” of municipal facilities between University, Auden, Amherst and College Sts.

The plan includes real estate transactions between the city and the church, which involves the potential swap of church-owned property on Amherst for the city-owned property on Milton. The city property currently houses the maintenance operations for West U’s Public Works Department.

Several residents spoke out against the plan at Monday’s city council meeting.

In its application to build its new Youth Center, the church described the new building.

“The new building will be ‘residential style’ in appearance — utilizing brick and masonry and concrete plaster, however the building will include commercial features such as steel structure, fire sprinkler system, access for the physically impaired and energy efficiency” features.

“The grounds will be fully landscaped with a high-efficiency water sprinkler system. The building and adjacent parking lot will be solid-fenced at adjacent residential facilities (north side) and buffered with trees and shrubbery.”

“Use of the Youth Ministry is limited to middle school children and senior high children — consequently, the building will include a ‘catering kitchen’ with no heat-producing appliances.”

The church notes that church policy “strictly forbids” smoking, drinking alcohol and use of controlled substances.

Although 140 children are currently involved in attending youth services at the church, the church anticipates that growth in the ministry will result in 240 children participating.

The church’s application states that the hours of operation will be Sunday mornings, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with “special events, such as Cub and Boy Scout meetings.”

A preliminary traffic study was performed for the church by JKnesek & Associates. In a letter to the church, traffic engineer Jason Knesek wrote that construction of the new Youth Center “is projected to change the volume of vehicular activity in the area. Further investigation will be required.”

In the church’s second application, West University Baptist proposes to build a 40- to 45-space parking lot on three lots located at 3821 to 3831 Amherst.

In its application, the church states: “West U Baptist Church believes the new parking lot meets the requirement for a special exception since the lot is accessory to a lawful primary use and compatible with nearby sites and their uses, specifically the new parking lot is compatible with the adjacent church parking lot and the city parking area.”

The proposed new parking lot would be located directly across the street from the city’s Public Works Administration building and the WUBC education and gymnasium building.

The church noted in its application that the proposed new parking area would provide additional parking for West U residents attending ball games or West U city council meetings.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment is scheduled to meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m.