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Church expansion proposal back on table

The congregation of the Saint Gheorghe Romanian Orthodox Church on Eighth Avenue at Bowler Street wants to put on an addition but is receiving opposition from neighbouring residents. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
The congregation of the Saint Gheorghe Romanian Orthodox Church on Eighth Avenue at Bowler Street wants to put on an addition but is receiving opposition from neighbouring residents.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Next door neighbours to a West End church are disappointed they are being dragged back into a controversial proposal they thought was resolved four years ago.

The Saint Gheorghe Romanian Orthodox Church on Eighth Avenue and Bowler Street is applying to the city to rezone its property so it can build an addition to the 78-year-old building.

It originally applied in late 2009, and eventually got approval for a rezoning for a scaled-down version despite objections from the neighbourhood. According to a report to city council last month, the original request would have required many updates to the structure in order for it to meet building code regulations.

Council approved a zoning that would have allowed a two-storey addition of 575 square feet and for the setback from Bowler Street to be reduced from 25 feet to nine feet, said the report.

However, the applicants did not build the addition.

Now the congregation wants to go back to the larger addition it first proposed, which would allow for another four feet to the extension, so the altar could face the east, the direction the religion traditionally calls for.

“You’re supposed to have the altar to the east, but our altar is to the south,” said church parish council president Gheorghe Serban. “Every Orthodox church they’ve got to be like that.”

Akhter and Tanya Zainul, who own the home on the southern edge of the church property, were unhappy about the addition back in 2010. They’re still unhappy about it.

“It is disappointing that our neighbourhood once again will be dragged into this issue,” said the Zainuls in an email to the NewsLeader. “The proposed extension will cause a direct negative impact to the neighbourhood by lowering the property values and the owners’ use of yards and enjoyment.”

Parking and traffic were major concerns in 2010, and they haven’t gone away, the Zainuls said. Although an arrangement was made for Sunday churchgoers to use a 34-space retail parking lot on the other side of 20th Street following the original discussions in 2010, it is always empty, they added.

“The parking is no problem because the parking on 20th Street is there,” insisted Serban, who estimated the church’s congregation at about 80 with the hope the expansion will attract more.

The Zainuls also said residents have had difficulty turning on to Eighth Avenue because parked cars block their view, and some have called police because they can’t back their vehicles out of their driveways on Sundays.

The couple said the addition would be a visual blight so close to their home and would block sunlight into their yard.

They noted the existing church is already encroaching on their property line closer than city regulations allow but it’s legally non-conforming because it existed before the bylaw was created.

Serban believes property values are motivating the opposition.

“It’s been there almost 80 years and no one complained, and now they complain because the house next to the church [has a lower property value],” said Serban. “Why buy [next to a church] if you don’t like it?”

When the report came to council Dec. 9, some councillors questioned why it had returned.

“I’m wondering what the benefits are for this application actually going through given that we went through a very protracted controversy,” said Coun. Bill Harper.

However, despite Harper’s objections, council voted to give staff the go ahead to begin processing the church’s application. That process would involve presentations to the West End Residents Association and the city’s advisory planning commission, and a public meeting with invitations to residents within 200 metres of the site.

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