Life Source Church asked for the Caldwell Planning Board’s blessing Wednesday night as the church’s pastor pursues the purchase of the building on 27 Personette Street.
After more than three hours of testimonies, and much opposition from neighborhood residents, the Board chose to adjourn the meeting and resume hearing the application next month.
was asked to return on Wednesday, May 9 with two revisions to the minor site plan. For one, the applicant was asked to modify its free-standing sign, eliminating the reader board and reducing the size. The applicant was also asked to address a concern raised by the borough engineer about the lack of two appropriate exits on the lower level.
Pastor Jonathan Papa testified that the church averages 50 worshippers at its Sunday morning services, which last from two to three hours. Other than Sunday morning, the church would use the building for Bible study on Wednesday nights for about half the year and for prayer groups that meet one Monday night a month. The Bible study meetings and prayer groups are each attended by about 8 to 12 people, Papa said.
While there is no on-site parking on the property, the applicant is exempt from parking requirements because there are no plans to expand the building. If this were a new construction, Benjamin Horten, the applicant’s architect, said 31 parking spaces would be required.
“Whether it’s a church or other use,” Horten said, “parking will always be a problem.”
Several residents of Personette as well as nearby Kirkwood Place and Orchard Square stood before the board to voice concerns about the lack of parking in the area and how allowing a church on the block would only exacerbate things.
One resident said when the Knights of Columbus rented to third parties he often couldn’t get his car out of his driveway. Others complained increased traffic from the church would have an impact on property values as well as quality of life.
“We are going to come here and we are going to protest, because we pay the taxes,” said Rosa Granada, who has lived across the street at 28 Personnette for 13 years. Granada said she was happy the Knights of Columbus building has been vacant and would like to see the zoning changed so that a one-family home could be built on the property. “It’s very quiet now. We are thrilled.”
Steven Schepis, the attorney presenting Life Source, said changing the zoning while the application was being heard was not permissible by law.
The church, a branch of the Assemblies of God, previously leased the building at and was forced to move when the building was sold. Until it finds a permanent home, the church has been gathering at .
Life Source Church has agreed to stipulations that would prohibit occupancy greater than 122 people—although legal capacity is over 200—as well as prohibit the building from being rented to third parities.
Rev. Papa said the church is not new to parking difficulties. When on Washburn, he said a parking attendant helped guide visitors to spots. He also said some members were able to drop-off people and park at a distance. Papa said these practices would continue if they were to purchase 27 Personette.
In addition, Papa said the church is conservative theologically and there would be no alcohol, dances, Tricky Trays, etc. at the church. This will be a “sacred worship space,” he said.
Life Source plans to spruce the place up. They would power wash and paint the building, replace the awning and improve landscaping, Papa said.
“The building is vacant, and it looks vacant,” he said. “It is an eyesore to the community.”
The Knights of Columbus building was built in the 1930s by the Maria Della Lavina Society, a religious group for Italian Americans. The building and its tax-exempt status were passed along to the Knights of Columbus Caldwell Council in 1964, when it was purchased by the Columbian Club (created because the Knights of Columbus cannot own real estate).
Over the years, longtime-member Roy Failla testified Wednesday night that members would meet here to socialize, play shuffleboard and plan their charitable endeavors. Dances were held three or four times a year, and the hall would be rented out for special occasions, such as baptisms and birthdays.
Those rentals stopped about three years ago and the building has stood vacant for 18 months, Failla said.
“It became obvious two years ago that we couldn’t afford to keep the place anymore,” he said.
The building went on the market in the Spring of 2010 and Life Source became interested recently when the asking price dropped sharply from $350,000 to $250,000, according to listing agent Tom Gartland of Gartland Realty in Fairfield. The buyer’s offer was not disclosed.
Papa said he did not see the price reduction as a coincidence. He called it a “God opportunity.”