By Rosemary K. Otzman
A large number of supporters of Bethany Bible Church attended the Aug. 14 public hearing before the Van Buren Township Planning Commission to consider input on the church’s request for special approval for expansion of its church in a residential district.
Architect Wayde Hoppe explained the need of the growing church to build a new worship area for the congregation since the church members now have to meet in their gymnasium to accommodate the crowd.
The church at 810 E. Huron River Drive was built in 1959 and is on a long, narrow parcel of 11 acres that runs from the railroad at the south to East Huron River Drive at the north.
A year ago, a neighbor to the east sold the back part of the parcel to the church and another neighbor to the west also sold some property. A privacy fence was installed by the church for the neighbor on the east.
Hoppe said the new worship area addition would have 548 seats and a large stage in front for the choir and other things. He said the ordinance calls for one space for every three seats, so they are limited to 220 parking spaces.
The church entry would be to the north so people driving in can see the front door first. Land on the north and west will be used for more parking.
Hoppe said Wayne County has storm water regulations and they will comply.
He said the existing building is 14,000 square feet and the new building would be 13,800 square feet, giving them almost 38,000 square feet total.
The addition would also include additional classrooms and office space.
Hoppe said the church’s old stone front is dated and the new design will give it a new look. It will include a large glass entrance with an open casual area before the entrance to the formal worship area.
There will be a small tower, masonry, and a lot of glass to get a lot of daylight, he said.
The main entrance will be in front, with the weekday entrance to the west with a courtyard.
The construction would be pushing to the north away from the current building, he said.
Hoppe read a letter of support from Robert Goldbach, who has lived on East Huron River Drive since 1977 and sold half of his property to the church for this project. The church built him a new garage/barn closer to his house, since his old structure was on the sold property to the rear.
“The church tries to be good neighbors,” Hoppe said.
Darwin Loyer of 763 Greylock Street said he was on the planning commission when Bethany came in for an expansion in 1997. He said his house is next door to the west.
He said Bethany says it wants to be good neighbors, “But in my opinion this is not so.” He said he doesn’t think they have lived up to their promises and he will be one of those impacted by the expansion.
Loyer, who was fired as Van Buren Township fire chief, wanted to know if the fire department has reviewed the plans, if the engineers have looked at the fire hydrants, and if there is a loading area involved.
Loyer wanted to know if there is a new air conditioner, since he hears the church’s air conditioner on the roof kicking in at night. He wanted to know if storm drainage will be kept on site.
Another neighbor, Pat Veerkamp of 791 Greylock, complained that she is going to lose her view of the woods when they decimate it for parking. She said she would like a huge, guaranteed buffer.
“When they built the daycare, the planning commission required a buffer that turned out less than intended,” Veerkamp said.
Duane Bonner, Bethany’s senior pastor since 2010, of 43249 Bradley, said he would like Pat Veerkamp and Darwin Loyer to come sit down with him, since he hasn’t met them yet.
“We’d like to work on the buffer and privacy,” he said.
Kevin Losen, chairman of the building committee, said he has attended Bethany since 1970 at the age of five and was elected to the board in 1984.
He said they have been at the present location since 1959 and, “We have a rich history of giving back” to the community.
He said there are nine different neighbors that connect to their property and they are all good people and, “We rarely get complaints.” Losen, who is retired from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, said there is no history of complaints to the police from neighbors.
“We deny those allegations and desire to have a wonderful relationship,” he said of the charges by Loyer and Veerkamp.
He pointed out the two other neighbors that were present to show their support.
“Our growth forced us out of our auditorium to the gymnasium,” Losen said.
He said in initial talks with Van Buren Township it was suggested the church try to buy more property. The church spent $100,000 to purchase property and hire an architect and engineer.
“We pledge to be responsive to concerns,” Losen said.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Carol Thompson answered questions brought by Loyer and Veerkamp: There is no planned loading zone. The plan is for rooftop HVAC units that will be shielded and there will be no change to the current units. This is unlikely to add noise. All storm water will be retained on site. Trees will come out for the parking lot on the west.
She said as they go through the site plan they will make sure the fire hydrants and water pressure are correct, as part of the mechanical plans.
Sally Hodges of McKenna Associates planning consultants said the township ordinance requires the parking lot be screened from residences with plantings or masonry. She said in an existing development the tree ordinance does not apply.
Thompson said the township economic development and planning director Arthur Mullen is willing to sit down with the neighbors and the church and work out the problems.
Hoppe told the commission that the church has limited funds and he wondered how long it would take to know the township’s decision.
Hodges said it would be two or four weeks before the commission votes on whether to recommend the special use to the township board. She said they will deal with the preliminary site plan at the same time so the township board will have them both at once.
By Rosemary K. Otzman