Variances granted for new sanctuary at Paxton church

PAXTON — Despite concerns from Paxton aldermen about the lack of time they had to review proposed variances to allow for the construction of a new sanctuary at the Upper Room Bible Church, the city council still approved the variances during its monthly meeting in February.

The city’s zoning board of appeals had met just an hour earlier at City Hall to discuss the variances requested, ultimately voting to recommend the council approve them.

After hearing a presentation about the construction project planned, Alderman Rob Steiger said he had no problem with the project itself, only about the permitting process.

“There’s no time for input,” Steiger said. “The constituency will find out later that it was approved by the (zoning board) and approved by the council on the same night. ... I’m not against the plan, it’s just sometimes I just see this gap in the process and it just rubs me the wrong way.”

Alderman Rob Pacey said he also had concerns about the process. Pacey specifically questioned why the zoning board had not provided any “rationale or reason” for recommending approval of the three variances, as required by the city’s ordinances.

City Attorney Marc Miller told the council that it could vote on the variances at a later date if it needed the zoning board’s rationale first in order to take action.

Miller said he would prefer the council have the rationale in hand; however, because it did not, it could still vote on the variances anyway. Miller noted that Mayor Bill Ingold earlier in the evening had recited the zoning board’s recommendation and any concerns zoning board members had voiced, which were limited to concerns about the height of the new sanctuary and parking concerns stemming from the congregation’s anticipated growth.

Church officials said the church at 455 W. Orleans St. would like to use the three variances to add a 60-by-60-foot sanctuary within the U-shaped void that is currently on the church’s south side.

“It won’t protrude out any further than the face that’s there now,” one church official said.

The church’s existing sanctuary holds 140 to 150 people, Ingold said, with an average of 130 to 140 attending each Sunday service, officials said. The new sanctuary will hold about 290 to 300 people, with about 70 percent of that amount expected to attend on Sundays.

Church officials stressed that parking availability should not be much of an issue, noting that 32 parking spaces were recently added to the church’s south side, and there is also parking available on its west side.

The variances address the amount of the lot used for a structure, the height of the building and a pre-existing sign that does not meet zoning regulations.

Church officials said they twice went door-to-door to ask neighbors for their input on their plans, while also sending a letter to those who were not home at the time of their visits. The only concern voiced was related to parking, and the church later addressed that concern.

Alderman Susan Satterlee said her “biggest concern” with the project was not the project itself, but rather the presence of a “very old school” next to where the new sanctuary will be built. She was referring to the long-closed West Lawn School.

“I just think that you’re building next to a building that should be condemned,” Satterlee told the church members in attendance.

The church does not own the West Lawn School property, but one church official said addressing that situation would be “next on the list” of things to do. The property might be a good place to put a parking lot, the official added.

The council then voted unanimously to approve the three variances, with Pacey, Satterlee and Alderman Mike Wilson abstaining.

After the vote, Pacey asked that in the future, more time be provided to the council to review requests for variances and other zoning matters before the council is asked to take any action.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County


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