Zoning issue stalls church’s plans to buy downtown Canton restaurant


Zoning issue stalls church’s plans to buy downtown Canton restaurant

CANTON — Zoning restrictions have stalled plans by an evangelical Christian group to buy a former downtown restaurant and use it for Sunday services and other activities.The village Planning Board Wednesday night decided not to act on a site plan submitted by Jamie R. Sinclair, pastor of Canton Christian Fellowship Center.The church has an accepted purchase offer on The Club, a former restaurant and tavern at 25 Court St. that was housed in a historic, three-story building. Owner Richard Cassara closed the restaurant in July.Planning Board Chairman Barry Walch said the church’s request will likely move to the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which may consider granting a use variance that would allow the church to open in a Commercial-1 zoning district. The district doesn’t specifically identify churches as an allowed use although it does permit fraternal organizations, social clubs and education, charitable or philanthropic groups. Mr. Walch said the Planning Board can’t make a decision either way until a decision about zoning is made by Codes Enforcement Officer Jeffrey Murray or the ZBA.“It’s not that we say no. It’s that we can’t say yes,” Mr. Walch said. “The question is how philanthropic is this organization versus how much is it a church?” Although Mr. Sinclair said he wants to move “full steam ahead” with The Club site for his 100-member congregation, he is also exploring vacant lots in the village where a new church could be constructed. Those sites include a 6-acre site behind the new Rite Aid store, East Main Street, that’s owned by St. Lawrence University.“If an alternate site comes by, I’m totally open minded,” he said.Mr. Walch said Mr. Murray will review the code and likely refer the matter to the ZBA. That board’s options include rejecting the plan or agreeing that a church is allowed in the district. The ZBA can also issue a use variance or recommend a change in the zoning code to accommodate the church’s plans. The village board would have the final say on any zoning changes.Depending on the ZBA’s actions, the request may end up back with the village Planning Board for a site review.Mr. Sinclair said he’s confident that the ZBA will agree with his position that a church already fits within uses allowed in a C-1 zone. He said he’s not interested in a use variance or a zoning change.“I feel a church is very clearly within those categories. I just want them to recognize that we are a philanthropic and charitable organization,” he said. “I’m not too worried. I’m very optimistic and will be patient throughout the process.” Conrad Stuntz, a Church Street resident, serves as ZBA chairman. He recently replaced the Rev. Michael Catanzaro, who stepped down. Other ZBA members include Sally McElhearn, Debbie Gilson and Mike Snow. Andrew Whittier is an alternate.Jessica Prody, a Planning Board member, said she believed there were reasons why churches were not specifically mentioned as allowed in the C-1 zone.“To me, that it’s not listed with a long list of organizations, suggests there was a certain logic behind that code,” she said.Planning Board member Charles Rouse agreed.“There are areas of the code that include churches. I don’t think it’s an accidental omission,” he said.Mr. Rouse also told Mr. Sinclair he should provide more details about how the church plans to use the former restaurant. Mr. Sinclair said there are no plans to change the building’s exterior.Questions were raised about whether CFC would be required to meet the code’s parking requirement for churches if it proceeds with The Club building, or if it would be allowed to follow parking rules for commercial uses. Mr. Sinclair said the church would use the municipal parking lot behind the building and they have also received permission from the owners of 30 Park St. to use that lot.Marilyn Mintener, owner of the Pear Tree gift shop, Main Street, asked if CFC would be willing to make payments-in-lieu of taxes to the village in exchange for using municipal parking lots that are funded by village taxpayers. Like other churches, CFC would be exempt from paying property taxes on The Club building.“You are telling me that you are a not-for-profit; so for those of us that are paying the taxes to sustain the plowing, all of the needs of this village, you are having all those same privileges and not paying one red cent. And that really irritates me a lot,” Mrs. Mintener said.For the past two years, CFC has been holding Sunday services at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Court Street, but the lease expired at the end of September. Since then, services have been held at SUNY Canton and at the Best Western restaurant.
Source: Watertown Daily Times Latest News
Zoning issue stalls church’s plans to buy downtown Canton restaurant

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