Waterville council considers contentious zoning change allowing church building to be events center

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The Waterville City Council is set to decide whether to rezone the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 70 Pleasant St. to allow the space to be used as an events center. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday will consider the contentious proposal for a zone change on Pleasant and Middle streets to allow businesswoman Jennifer Bergeron and partners to turn the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property into an events center for hosting weddings, receptions, craft fairs and other activities.

The virtual meeting will be at 7 p.m. and the public may register to view the proceedings via a link on the city’s website.

Bergeron is requesting the property be rezoned from Residential-B and Residential-D to Contract Zoned District Commercial-A. The proposal has sparked backlash from some neighbors in the residential area who worry about loud noise and other disruptions to the neighborhood.

The Planning Board voted 6-0 June 7 to approve the zoning change with conditions of the contract zone to include that no alcohol be consumed on the property and the events center hours be restricted to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. That board may recommend rezoning to the council, which has the authority to make zone changes.

Other conditions the council would consider as part of the contract zone: that the Planning Board review a site plan for the development in accordance with the city’s site plan review and subdivision ordinance; parking and driveways be set back at least 5 feet from all property lines; landscaped berms be installed along street lines as needed to prevent headlights from shining into homes; curbing be added along street lines to direct the flow of traffic.

The Planning Board also recommends a condition that a solid 6-foot-high fence or a compact evergreen hedge be planted and maintained to attain a height of not less than 6 feet within five years and that it be installed along property lines abutting parking lots, unless the board approves an alternative landscaping plan that provides adequate screening. In addition, existing plantings would be retained where feasible to provide a visual buffer for abutting properties; and the capacity of the church building will be determined by the number of parking spaces in the lot, with three people allotted per space.

The Waterville City Council is set to decide whether to rezone the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 70 Pleasant St. to allow the space to be used as an events center. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Other conditions include that the rectory shall be used for residential use only and the church office building used only by the events center.

At the June 7 Planning Board meeting, several residents said an events center would create noise because of people leaving late at night, talking, getting into cars, slamming doors and shining headlights into houses. Others who support the proposal said they want to see the historic church preserved, it would be difficult or impossible to use it for anything else and the building would continue to deteriorate and become a fire hazard. Board members wanted Bergeron to set a closing time for the center, but she said she could not because she can not predict when each event would end.

Some board members said they were opposed to a use that would change the residential nature of the neighborhood. The council must take two votes to approve zoning changes and may take only one vote Tuesday.

In other matters Tuesday, the council will consider taking a final vote to amend the city’s animal control ordinance so as to increase the number of dogs allowed for a family within the city from three to four and limiting the number allowed in the Rural Residential Zone to 10; voting to accept a proposed process for reviewing performance of the city manager; approving the purchase of a utility terrain vehicle and rescue boat for the fire department; and approving a zoning change for part of 101 Webb Road from Rural Residential to Solar Farm District. The change is requested by NextGrid as part of a previously approved site plan for a solar farm.

 

 


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