The $3 million Christ Church of Longboat Key, Presbyterian, sanctuary project was approved by the Planning & Zoning Board Tuesday, Dec. 15, but not before one board member was chastised by the public for attempting to vote on the project. In addition, 75 project supporters and opponents went back-and-forth on the merits of the application for more than five hours.
Before Town Planner Steve Schield could begin his presentation, residents questioned Planning Board member John Wild’s right to vote on the matter, because he’s a member of the church.
Although town attorney David Persson said there was not a conflict because Wild was not a member of the church’s hierarchy, residents took to the podium to question the decision.
“It’s a conflict when a board member is a member of the church that would benefit from this project,” said Key resident Tom Bauer.
And when two residents came forward to say they had conversations with Wild regarding the project before it was presented to the board, Wild opted to leave the meeting.
“I believe that no conflict exists, but I will leave the meeting,” said Wild, who was upset some residents and a couple of planning board members expressed doubt in his ability to vote.
Once that matter was resolved, Schield told the board town staff recommended approval of the 17,400-square-foot sanctuary that’s proposed on the 1.9-acre site at 6400 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Some residents, however, took to the stand to dispute what they perceive as major issues with the project. Neighboring Sleepy Lagoon residents are worried mostly about traffic, parking and storm-water drainage issues they believe will arise from the project.
“We are not against having a church in our neighborhood,” said Sleepy Lagoon Association President Reina Berman. “But the mission of our association is to improve and maintain the quality of life in Sleepy Lagoon, and we don’t believe the project as proposed maintains that mission.”
Sleepy Lagoon resident Julius Rauch, chairman of the Sleepy Lagoon Association’s Church Study Committee, told the planning board his community has concerns with additional storm water being discharged into the nearby canal and said traffic-and-parking issues need to be addressed.
Schield told the planning board the 279-seat church, which requires 93 parking spaces, received waivers for 36 of those parking spaces. Eighteen spaces were waived because 18 church members live within 2,000 feet of the new church site. The church also received nine waivers each for providing bicycle racks and utilizing public parking on General Harris Street.
Christ Church Building Committee Chairman Burton Borgelt tried to address the community’s concerns, explaining traffic would be alleviated during season by holding two Sunday services.
But Rauch and other residents still believe there are serious parking problems.
An initial motion by planning board member John Redgrave to recommend the project’s approval with a list of 33 conditions failed to receive a second.
And, another hour of discussion ensued when planning board member Pat Zunz urged denial of the project because she had concerns with approved issues.
At one point, Planning Board Chairman Al Hixon asked Borgelt if he would rather the board make a recommendation of denial to the Town Commission or continue the hearing process after Christ Church made plan modifications. The statement prompted planning board members George Symanski Jr. and Morton Siegler to reconsider the scrutiny which the board was giving the project.
“I think we need to realize we are still in Key Club mode and we don’t need to sit here and make all sorts of modifications,” said Symanski.
“I find it difficult to say ‘no’ to these people and a site plan that town staff says meets the code,” said Siegler.
When Redgrave made his motion again, the project was approved and moved forward to the Town
Commission in January by a 5-2 vote.
Planning board members Redgrave, Siegler, Symanski, Phineas Alpers and Walter Hackett voted to support the project.
Zunz and Hixon were the dissenting votes.
The Rev. Bruce Porter, of Christ Church, was happy to hear the news.
“We expect to be good neighbors,” Porter said. “We have many good things we want to do here on Longboat Key.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].