Christ Church of Longboat Key, Presbyterian’s new sanctuary will be built, which will bring the island its fifth official church building next year.
The Longboat Key Town Commission approved the $3.5 million Christ Church project Monday, Jan. 4 at its regular meeting by a 6-0 vote.
But, before a vote was taken at 11 p.m., three-and-a-half hours of contentious debate ensued between the church’s congregation and some Sleepy Lagoon neighbors who are concerned about what the building will do to the character of the neighborhood.
Town planner Steve Schield told the commission and more than 75 people in attendance at Town Hall that staff recommended approval of the 17,400-square-foot sanctuary that’s proposed on the 1.9-acre site at the corner of General Harris Street and Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Some residents of the 150-home neighborhood, however, took to the stand to dispute what they perceive as major issues with the project. Those residents are worried about increased traffic, parking and storm-water-drainage issues.
Sleepy Lagoon resident Julius Rauch, chairman of the Sleepy Lagoon Association Church Study Committee, was given more than 30 minutes Monday night to tell the commission he believes the church’s parking numbers are skewed, water-drainage issues will cause health-and-safety issues and the increased traffic will cause major traffic accidents.
“Our main concerns our safety, the health of our community and the impacts that will occur if the church doesn’t address important issues that affect us,” Rauch said.
The 279-seat church, which requires 93 parking spaces, received waivers for 36 of those parking spaces. Eighteen spaces were waived because residential homes exist within 2,000 feet of the church site. The church also received nine waivers each for providing bicycle racks and utilizing public parking on General Harris Street.
Schield told the commission that the Planning and Zoning Board already granted the parking waivers, which are allowed by town code.
Rauch told the commission he was concerned that the church site, which can hold up to 400,000 gallons of storm water during a storm, will cause a neighborhood canal to be filled with untreated water.
“Why dump contaminated water into a freshwater canal?” asked Rauch, who urged the commission to mandate that the storm water be funneled across Lyons Lane into an open-space area.
The town’s storm-water engineer, R.J. Ezazi, of Sarasota-based AECom, however, dissuaded the commission’s concern by explaining the project’s storm-water requirements meet and exceed what’s required for the project.
Several Sleepy Lagoon residents went to the podium in support of the project.
“In the nine years I have lived on Norton Street, I have never waited behind two cars to get out on Gulf of Mexico Drive,” Sleepy Lagoon resident William Dooley said. “I think the church will be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.”
When the police and fire chiefs confirmed that traffic accidents in the area were not an issue and that fire-safety vehicles could move freely through the site, Commissioner Jim Brown moved to approve the project.
The church also agreed to construct as many parking spaces as possible without paving them and to extend a sidewalk to Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Christ Church Building Committee Chairman Burt Borgelt was happy with the commission’s decision and hopes the dissension between the church and some of the neighbors will be quelled when the finished project is built.
“It’s our hope this is all behind us, we look forward to being good neighbors and are excited about a long and great existence in the community,” Borgelt said.
Christ Church immediately will put the project out to bid and hopes to start construction within the next couple of months. Borgelt said the sanctuary project would take approximately one year to complete.
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