Commission orders more talks on controversial expansions

Christ Lutheran Church and First Western Bank will be talking again with neighbors about their proposed expansion projects after running into opposition at the Minot Planning Commission Monday.

The commission voted to put a hold on both projects to allow time for discussions to settle the differences.

As part of its flood recovery, Christ Lutheran, at 502-17th St NW, wants to close an alley to expand its building for a kitchen and dining room. The new facilities would be more accessible to the public that uses its soup kitchen, and it would free the current kitchen and dining area for a possible child-care service.

“We think our plan helps revitalize the flooded neighborhood that we are in,” said Verla Rostad, congregation president.

The $3 million expansion also would decrease church parking, although Rostad said overflow parking is available through an agreement with Longfellow School, across the street.

Neighbors objected to closing the south end of their alley, which runs through the church property. They argued that alternative access to their portion of the alley would be challenging for large city vehicles, such as fire and garbage trucks.

Kevin Regala, a neighbor, said the loss of church parking also would be detrimental to the neighborhood.

“Parking is horrendous most of the time. During the winter, they don’t have half the parking spots because of snow,” he said. The school lot isn’t readily accessible located across busy 16th Street Northwest, he said.

“We think they can do what they want to do, but we really want to see it done inside their existing footprint,” Regala said.

The expansion plan also would require the church to relocate a city water main that runs through the alley.

Dan Jonasson, city public works director, said the main would have to be moved properly and quickly to avoid extended loss of water service. The main feeds the North Hill reservoir and much of that part of town. Jonasson added that relocation would result in bends in the pipeline rather than a straight shot through the area, which creates a need for more water pressure.

Jule Herrmann, a neighbor, said residents weren’t given details of the expansion plans until Sunday night, giving them little time to digest and respond to the information.

Rostad said the stress the congregation has been under, combined with an unfamiliarity with the city planning process, led to the error.

“On behalf of the congregation, I would like to apologize to our neighbors,” Rostad said. “We goofed, and for that, I am sorry.”

Commissioners, as well as neighbors, spoke in support of the church’s efforts to expand its facilities and rebound from the flood. However, the repercussions of the current plan concerned the commission, which asked the congregation to meet with neighbors to try to resolve the problems.

The commission gave the same advice to officials with First Western Bank, 900 S. Broadway, after putting the bank’s expansion request on hold.

First Western requested a reduction in required parking and a variance to its eastside setback along Ninth Avenue Southwest. Neighbors rose to protest, saying the plan that the bank presented the commission was not the plan that they gave their blessing to. They objected to the height and the look of the expanded building in the sketch offered the commission.

“I feel I was mislead,” said Joe Schmidt, who lives on the avenue. “I can’t tell you how let down I am.”

He said a variance should be issued only in case of hardship, but the only hardship will be for the neighbors who will have a 30- to 40-foot tall building crowding their homes from a setback 11 feet from the curb.

The bank’s architect said the sloping grade required a design change that makes the building appear taller.

Christ Lutheran and First Western will be able to bring their requests back to the commission at a future meeting.