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Residents Oppose Church Moving Into Neighborhood

Tell Caldwell Planning Board there's just no place for Life Source worshippers to park.

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.”

Teresa Akersten May 09, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Tonight's Caldwell Planning Board hearing has been postponed until June 13 at the request of the applicant, Life Source Church.
Hilda Moore July 09, 2012 at 07:48 PM
The Lord works in mysterious ways and if the residents of Personette Street, Kirkwood Place and Orchard Square do not already know...LIFE SOURCE CHURCH has withdrawn their application to come into our quiet and peaceful neighborhood. The planning board will no longer entertain this problem which was scheduled to be heard on July 11th. However, we as residents must petition the Mayor and Council to change the ordinance so this situation will not happen ever again!
sue July 13, 2012 at 03:10 AM
lets go Hilda. start it up
Hilda July 18, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Only four residents of Personette Street (3), and one from Orchard Square attended the Council meeting of July 17th. I presented our signed petition asking for a change in the ordinanace preventing in our neighborhood, religious establishmments, businesses (commercial or otherwise including entertainment) to the Mayor and Council, however; signatures are still be obtained. I must still remind the residents of our neighborhood that just because Life Source Church withdrew their application, the situation concerning 27 Personette Street is "not a done deal!" Councilman O'Donnell, has proposed that the town purchase said property for Open Space. This would be the best measure to satisfy the residents, especially while Green Acres Funding is available.
Hilda July 18, 2012 at 10:15 PM
John, What do you have to say now that the church has withdrawn their application? "Miracles Never Cease!"

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