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Planning Commission recommends land use map change for church

Thursday, May 23, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite the church’s unorthodox approach, the Planning Commission gave a unanimous go-ahead to the north central branch of Promiseland Church last week.


The church, located at 1504 East 51st Street, was asking for a change in the future land use map, or FLUM, for its 20-acre lot, though not its zoning.


Pastor Shules Hersh was before the Planning Commission asking for the change in land use – from the current Civic to Mixed Use. When asked by the commission why the request wasn’t paired with a request for a zoning change, he explained that he was fairly new to the city’s zoning process.


In the end, the commissioners supported the change in a vote of 9-0.


Hersh noted that the current use of the church land contradicts the future vision for that stretch of 51st street, even from the church’s own perspective.


“We represent the one of the longest stretches of street front where you have to walk past parking lot by the acre. You have to walk past kind of an imposing suburban structure that came out of an old 51st street, because we’ve been there for 45 years,” said Hersh.


“We’d like to see the very front, right along 51st street, have some mixed use applications where our street front would become a little more friendly,” said Hersh. He said that his research revealed that their property and the property of the Maronite Catholic Church were the only two along 51st from Berkman Road to Cameron Road that were not designated mixed use on the FLUM.


Concerned that it could pave the way for a more-intense land use, the Windsor Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team voted not to support the change.


Hersh said that was not his church’s intent. He explained (somewhat ironically, given the recent history of the Promiseland West branch of the church, and its amphitheater, with the neighborhood) that they would work to get the neighborhood on board.


“We’re a church. We don’t want to alienate our neighborhood,” said Hersh.


“It concerns me, too, to have a request to change the FLUM to something as non-descript as Mixed Use. I would feel the same anxiety if it were in my neighborhood,” said Commissioner Jean Stevens. “But what’s before us tonight is just that. We don’t have a zoning case to attach to it. We have to look at this case and try to weigh the merits… What we are looking at is can we lift off some of the restrictions from the Civic, and attach MU to it, and hopefully get a good night’s rest.”


Stevens said she felt good about a buffer that would insulate the neighborhood from zoning changes. She also reassured residents that, while she couldn’t predict what zoning would be requested in the future, the zoning would be before the commission when it was requested.


Chair Dave Anderson agreed, saying, “I wouldn’t be supporting it if there wasn’t an opportunity, during the zoning, to handle some of the concerns that y’all have.”


Commissioner Danette Chimenti said that she didn’t like seeing the land use request coming to the commission separate from the zoning, because it limited the information available to the neighborhood at once. She did support the change, however, also because of the buffer and the fact that the zoning case would eventually be back at the commission.


“When this does come back to us, I will be pushing very hard to hold the more intense uses away from the single-family units,” said Chimenti.


A related conversation earlier in the meeting clarified that land owned by religious institutions is not tax-exempt when used primarily for commercial purposes.

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