A church congregation that has been seeking Planning Board approvals since February finally succeeded Thursday after pledging to renovate its new building within six months.
Ministerio Internacional Puerta Del Cielo members crowded City Hall Library as attorney Jeff Lehrer initially presented a timetable stretching over two years to meet all the board's requirements. They included repairs to the parking lot of the site on Roosevelt Avenue, interior and exterior improvements and erection of a light pole. Lehrer said the reason for the extended schedule was "all about dollars," but board members were reluctant at first to give any concessions.
Planning Director William Nierstedt reminded the board that site plan approvals are good for three years and added that he had put forth the idea of phasing the work. He said the Planning Division's position has softened in recognition that not every applicant has the money to complete work quickly.
He said the applicant could be required to post a financial guarantee that the work would be done by a certain time. The money would not be returned and the temporary certificate of occupancy pulled if the deadline was not met.
But Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey said once the congregation was in the building, it would be hard to move them out of their church home..
Another issue was off-site leased parking space to augment the spaces around the church. Lehrer said the church had a five-year lease for 22 spaces, with two more five-year renewal options, but Scott Bey wanted a lease for the life of the church. Then the question became how the board would know the status of the church. Nierstedt said either the chairman or the city could become a party to the lease, though he was not sure of the legalities.
After Lehrer said the church would do all the work within six months except for needing a year to acquire the light pole, the board voted 6-2 to give preliminary and final site plan approval. William Toth, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, John Stewart, Ken Robertson, Sean McKenna and Horace Baldwin voted "yes" and Scott Bey and Anthony Howard voted "no."
The approval saga began on Feb. 18 with the board getting partway through a hearing before realizing the address on the application was incomplete. The attorney at the time said he could get the notice published in time for the March 3 meeting, but it was a day short of the required 10 days and had to be carried to the March 17 meeting.
At that meeting, Scott Bey said there were 45 items still to be cleared up, which led to the application continuing Thursday.
Before the decision, Taylor said if the application was denied, the church would come to the council.
"All y'all be the boogie bears, and then we'll side with them," she said.
Taylor wanted all the work done before the church was granted a certificate of occupancy.