BERKELEY – An old building across from a church will soon serve as its community outreach center, now that it was approved by the township Planning Board.
The Holy Temple Church Of God In Christ, located on 1st Avenue in Manitou Park, was the applicant looking to open this resource center. Pastor David Graham expected that it would be ready for people in spring.
Graham said the resource center would serve as a referral agency for people in need of housing, mental health services, drug and alcohol counseling, or help with veterans issues. The church has connections with locations that provide these services. Someone walking into the resource center would be put in touch with one of those agencies that are able to help them right away.
Sometimes, when people need help, they don’t know how to find it, he said. Or, they have to wait to get the services they need. The resource center would be able to cut the wait time for people.
It might also house offices for a receptionist, the pastor, and a boardroom.
The Planning Board and the pastor discussed the hours of operation, since it is in a residential area.
The doors need to be open, particularly for people ready to make a change in their lifestyle. People come in when they’re ready to come in, Graham said. If you tell them to come back later, particularly people with substance abuse problems, you’ll have missed your opportunity to help them.
The hours of operation were discussed to be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, with some evening hours.
There would not be too many parking spaces on the lot. Instead, the church overflow parking lot would be used. However, there is a vacant lot in between the two that is owned by someone else. There are just trees there now.
Planning Board member Nick Mackres was concerned about how people would walk from the overflow parking to the resource center. It would be a pedestrian safety issue.
John Lord, engineer for the project, said that the church would provide a sidewalk along the vacant property, even though they don’t own it. Any curb cuts would have to be done in the future by the property owner.
Board member Richard Callahan asked who would be responsible for shoveling the walk in the snow. It was written into the document that the church would be responsible.
Planning Board attorney Gregory McGuckin said that if the property in between gets developed, then maintaining the sidewalks would become the new resident’s responsibility.
April Grant, the owner of the empty lot, spoke during the public hearing on the development. She said she was fine with the decisions being made. She just attended the meeting to make sure that she would still retain control of the property.
The small lot contains just one L-shaped building and a shed. No additional landscaping or lighting were proposed. The only changes expected to the facade of the building were to clean it up and paint it. They were also looking to provide some access according to the Americans With Disabilities Act.
There were a lot of non-conforming issues with the property, so the church was seeking waivers so that they did not have to adhere to certain rules. There was not enough distance from the building to neighboring lots, for example. The shed was non-conforming. The church also sought waivers on various parts of the project, including: shade trees, lighting, landscaping, and paving the overflow lot.
“We are neither increasing or creating any of these variances,” said Lord, the engineer.
Generally speaking, buildings that were built before zoning laws have a bit more leeway, as if they were grandfathered in, providing they don’t make things worse for residents.
Ultimately, the project was approved, with language inserted to require the church to follow certain rules, like taking care of the sidewalk.
“It breaks every zoning law, but it’ll be an improvement to the community,” Planning Board Chairman Bob Winward said with a laugh.