12-05-2019 Watervliet City Commission/ZBA sets parking requirements for religious organizations; For

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Watervliet City Commission/ZBA sets parking requirements for religious organizations

By Annette Christie

The Watervliet City Commission, which, by charter, also serves as the Zoning Board of Appeals met to determine the parking requirements for religious organizations as it is not currently determined by ordinance. Prompted by a land use request to put a church in a current empty building on Main Street, a look at the ordinance determined that it lacked specifications for parking space requirements for such a use.

A meeting was held on December 3, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. for the sole purpose of determining those specifications that will then be forwarded on to the Planning Commission.

Pastor Justin VanFerrari with the Freshwater Community Church told the Commission that Freshwater Community Church does plan to someday create a community center to fit the community’s needs in addition to making their church home here. In his research he stated there are about 30 buildings in the downtown area that in total have approximately 375 downtown public parking spaces available. VanFerrari said that that figure does not include the city hall, fire department, library, or other church parking lots. He noted that in the vision for the downtown area, the City sees over 600 parking spots in their future. They hope to be a part of a boosted downtown area where a need for extra parking spots, because of all the activity, is a good thing, a good problem to have.

Bob Lohr, the contracted Zoning Administrator for the City of Watervliet made it clear that the schedule for parking requirements lists a lot of things, however fraternal or religious institutions are left off. Without knowing when the ordinances were put into effect, it is unknown why the governing body at that time neglected to address it. It specifically lists parking requirements for retail stores, banks, automobile service stations, bowling alleys, restaurants, furniture and appliance stores, and theaters to name just a few.

Commissioner Deah Muth asked if the building in discussion used to be a movie theater, how did they make it work then. Lohr guessed that they either didn’t adhere to the ordinance, or maybe it wasn’t even around then. The requirement for a movie theater is one parking space provided for each four seats; in addition one parking spot had to be provided for each employee.

Several of the Commissioners seemed to lean towards community service uses such as an auditorium. That requirement states that one parking space shall be provided for each three auditorium seats. Adequate space shall also be provided for buses used in connection with the activities of the institution, and all loading and unloading of passengers shall take place upon the premises.

Commissioner Jennifer Helms expressed that her concern was not Sunday but days when the community was up and running. VanFerrari stated that the maximum capacity for the facility was 300 people. They currently have about 100 adults and kids that attend service on Sunday.

The church started in Coloma in 2010. Over the past nine years they have been meeting in the Coloma Middle School building. They are seeking to move into the property at 115 N. Main St. The building has both large and small spaces that will allow for multi-purpose usage. At past public meetings, VanFerrari said that they anticipate about $170,000 in renovations that will be done in phases. Up first would be a new roof, an update to the exterior of the building and then focusing on the smaller side before the larger side. They had hoped to get the roof done before winter sets in.

The Planning Commission has been considering their special land use permit which would allow for the church; however the parking issue was passed on to the Zoning Board of Appeals for consideration.

As the ZBA, the City Commission declared that fraternal and religious institutions must have one parking spot for every three seats in their facility. They will pass that on to the Planning Commission who will then make a recommendation back to the City Commission. Ultimately, the City Commission will either approve or turn down the special land use permit.