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Proposed NJ church parking has residents up in arms

| August 12, 2013
church parking

First Church of Christ, Scientist in Haddonfield, NJ (image by waymarking.com).

A proposed parking lot has become a bone of contention between the First Church of Christ, Scientist and its neighbors in the historic district of Haddonfield, New Jersey. The controversial parking lot has been approved by the borough Planning Board and will go before the Zoning Board soon. Haddonfield zoning laws mandate churches to have parking lots and handicap access.

Many years ago, the 181-year-old church had bought the property adjacent to it and now wants to convert it into a parking lot for its congregation. The lot would accommodate around 22 cars and would have a surface of grass growing through a plastic mesh instead of asphalt. The trees on the site would remain untouched with the exception of one cedar tree which would have to be removed to allow handicap access. The church is trying to abide by the law but still leave the area as naturally beautiful as possible.

The proposal was cleared by the Haddonfield Historic Preservation Commission recently before it advanced to the Planning Board. The Zoning Board will hear the application next month. However, the parking lot is opposed by the neighbors who think it is unnecessary. “Why should we allow a 22-car parking lot to ruin a residential neighborhood and blight the historic district for the convenience of a small handful of people?” wrote Mary Previte, a neighbor, in a letter to fellow neighbors before the Planning Board’s meeting.

Why does the church need more parking?

Increased attendance at Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services and other events scheduled on these days makes parking difficult. There is also a rise in the number of students at the nearby high school driving cars. This results in fewer street parking spaces being available for churchgoers. There have been instances when church members have had to walk a quarter-mile or more to park. As a result, some just don’t attend these services to avoid the hassle of parking, according to Rich Meyers, a church officer. Not all members are able to walk that far, he says.

First Church of Christ

The church will only need parking during the time of the services (image by Patch).

Why are neighbors opposing it?

Church-Parking-Sign-K-4210

View this sign here.

Residents are wary of a new parking lot in the historic district, citing reasons from environmental damage to devaluation of property. These opponents say that the parking lot is not a necessity based on the approximate number of cars they see on service days. They also feel that the parked cars will harm tree roots under the lot.

Ryan Sparrow, who lives near the proposed lot, says, “Putting a parking lot in there is going to devalue our property significantly.” The historic commission, he says, “created a bad precedent. If you’re going to allow plastic in a historic district, what next?”

Opponents of the lot intend to continue their fight with the Zoning Board, says Kim Custer, a historic preservation activist. Resident Joe Haro worries that if the church parking lot comes through, it would “open Pandora’s box,” encouraging others to construct similar buildings in the historic district.

 
 

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