Church Controversy; It’s in the Details

January 3, 2012
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The Latino church on Anchor Road is suing the city in Federal Court over the right to use the church they bought in 2010. They are claiming the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals is standing in the way of an occupancy permit being granted for the church because of a lack of parking spaces in the crowded residential neighborhood of single-family homes.

The local Zoning Board denied the church’s request for an occupancy permit because of a lack of parking at the site.

According to city lawyers, the parking problem was exacerbated by the facility’s lack of a sprinkler system and handicapped access.

The city is apparently allowing services to be held inside the structure as long as progress is being made on the other issues.

The church has been closed for almost two decades and was being used previously by the Union Hospital for storage of the hospital’s paper products.

Lynn zoning law permits church parking at one parking space for three people ratio.

Neighborhood concerns have been raised over the parking issue as there is very little free parking in the highly congested area dotted with single family homes.

In fact, since the church was built in the late 1960’s, the area population has grown dramatically as has the number of automobiles being parked on the street.

Area residents say the small church had basically outlived its usefulness when it closed down years ago.

The use of the church now causes concerns for the neighborhood, as the church is likely to bring a much heavier use with both numbers of people and automobiles.

The way the issue is being formed appears to pit the people of the mixed race neighborhood against the Latino church. The church’s legal council based in Chicago is alleging that the city is standing against the rights of the Latino church to open and to be used as a place of prayer.

Their legal council considers the city’s stand against the church opening as a civil rights violation of the Latino church and its members to practice their religion – a right provided in the US Constitution.

In 2005, the empty church was about to be sold to a developer who had proposed three condo units.

At the time, the neighborhood’s residents and homeowners came out en masse to oppose the plan claiming there was not enough space or parking in the congested area.

The Zoning Board shot down that development plan.

The church has told the city it would rely on satellite parking to house the excess automobiles that might not be able to park in the immediate area of the church.

The city is insisting that a 1/3 or 1/4 ratio for people to parking spaces is what must be adhered to or it will not issue a certificate of occupancy for the church.

The church has said it would house drug and alcohol counseling programs which is another concern for the largely alcohol and drug free residential suburban community which has grown up around the church since the late 1960’s.

The prospect of drug addicted or alcoholic men and women converging on the church all the time has the neighborhood in an uproar.

A federal judge will apparently be deciding whether or not the church has the right to exist in the present structure minus the necessary spaces needed to allow a certificate of occupancy.

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