GOSHEN—Thirty six people crammed into the Town of Goshen Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting April 18 for at least the third hearing on site plans for the Orange County Gospel Fellowship Church, with several people standing on the sidelines.
The fellowship, which is currently located on 17M in Goshen, is seeking approval to build a church and other buildings totaling 27,200 square feet between Old Chester Road and Duck Cedar Road in the Town of Goshen, an area zoned as rural and a scenic corridor.
The issue before the ZBA was how they would interpret a regulation that says houses in that zone can have a maximum 10 percent impermeable surface area, meaning an area that cannot easily be penetrated by water. The current site plan has a 38.7 percent impermeable surface area.
The Fellowship’s Attorney, Jay Myrow, argued that there was nothing specific in the Town code that says churches are required to adhere to the same standards as houses, and cautioned the Board they are bound by the Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which protects individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.
A handful of would-be-neighbors to the proposed church said they objected to the size of the buildings compared to the 7.1 acre lot, and the 168-vehicle parking lot that would bring unwelcome traffic to their quiet road.
The plan, if approved, calls for the buildings to be built in two phases: first a 14,400 square foot church with a screened in porch, a children’s play area, and a two-bedroom carriage house, and later a 12,800 square foot extension to the church. Fellowship representatives said they did not know when the second phase would be built.
Neighbors also expressed concerns about their water supply, which is from private wells they say already have trouble refilling. The church’s site plan calls for a daily use of 1,532 gallons of well water water per day, however the Fellowship’s engineer, Anthony Trochiano, clarified that was a conservative number used for design purposes and actual usage may never reach that much.
The Otter Kill, a 150 foot stream that runs through the property, floods even in moderate rain, said Geri Corey who lives right across from the proposed church on Old Chester Road. She brought pictures showing trees underwater during such a rain, arguing with more impermeable surface area, it would only get worse. She pointed out the Otter Kill is on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) list of threatened water bodies.
She was also concerned about the traffic—both pedestrian and vehicular—at the crossing of the Heritage Trail on Duck Cedar Road, which she said would only get busier once a 76-home subdivision called Heritage Estates is built.
The Fellowship bought the property in 2014 because their membership, which is around 100 with another 150 or so more participating in the church’s various programs, was growing rapidly and they needed a bigger location. The site they are hoping to build on is close to their current location and they were under the impression from both the realtor who showed them the property and the Town building inspector, Neal Halloran, that the property would suit their needs.
Halloran confirmed that the zoning allowed for religious use in that area when they told them what they were planning, but said he did not know just how big it was going to be till he saw the current site plan last summer.
“We wouldn’t have even purchased the land had we not had those conversations with you,” said the Fellowship’s Deacon, Michael Callaghan to Halloran, adding he was at a loss as to how the miscommunication could have happened.
He said later in a phone interview the size has not changed since the site plan was initially drawn up, just the layout of the buildings.
The ZBA has 62 days to deliberate before they make their decision on the interpretation of the code. Meanwhile, the Fellowship is making its way through the Planning Board process and their State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), which the Planning Board has taken lead agency on. Because many of the residents’ concerns about the site plan were more appropriate for the Planning Board, there will be another public hearing that will address SEQR and the special use permit the Fellowship is applying for on May 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.
When asked at the ZBA hearing what variance they would request if they did not get the interpretation of the Town code they were hoping for, Myrow replied he did not think that was likely.
“There is no church that is going to meet a 10 percent [impermeable surface] requirement in a residential zone, it’s impossible,” he said. “So essentially, if you say that’s the criteria—no churches—that’s clearly a violation.”
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