It was a frustrating night for Dexter United Methodist Church (DUMC) at the Webster Township Planning Commission meeting held Sept 20. The church is seeking approval for plans to remodel their existing facilities on Huron River Drive as well as build a new multi-use facility.
DUMC first appeared before the Commission in August and left with a list of items to address at the Commissioners request. The church returned with answers, but things quickly stalled.
Darren Yount, Project Developer for the Aspen Group who is overseeing the project, opened up the presentation by telling the Commission they had addressed their concerns from the last meeting. The six areas he was ready to address were facility use, setback, parking, landscape buffers, drainage, and lighting.
That’s as far as he got. The Commission jumped right into parking which would dominate the discussion for the evening, the same subject that dominated the last meeting.
DUMC’s plan provides 259 parking spots. The parking requirements, derived from a formula based on occupancy, called for 257 parking spots. The formula takes into account occupancy for the sanctuary, youth building, and multi-purpose room.
Furthermore, the parking requirements were reviewed and approved by Carlisle-Wortman which is a Planning Consulting Company used by Webster Township to review submitted plans in order to verify that they comply with necessary ordinances. Carlisle-Wortman saw no parking issues that needed to be addressed regarding parking.
Good to go, right? Not so fast.
Commissioner Andrea Zamansky expressed doubt in the accuracy of the parking ordinance for the church’s plan. She pointed out that there was significant space unaccounted for in the formula used – lounges, atrium, and transitional spaces between buildings.
Her question to the Aspen Group was “How can we account for the people who will be in these spaces during church activities?”
Aspen argued that the number of people in these spaces would be negligible during a church service. Any people in these spaces would mostly be transitory, i.e. coming and going. Besides, the maximum capacity for the campus is 777 people, well above the 380 occupancy for the sanctuary at its fullest.
Furthermore, DUMC actively manages its parking to make even more space available. As Rev. Tom Snyder of DUMC explained at the August meeting, the church has established a shuttle service in which certain long-standing members have been asked to use in order to keep the church below 80% parking capacity. Studies show that when parking is more than 80% capacity, visitors are deterred.
The evening was a back and forth between the two sides: Aspen Group pointing out again and again that the written plan was compliant to ordinance and the Commission questioning whether or not it the written plan would work in actuality.
Sitting there, it would be easy to think that Webster’s Planning Commission was fighting DUMC over how many parking spots were needed and this point was holding up approval. But listening carefully, you could hear it was about getting the written plan/request as accurate as possible – for example, finding a way to account for people in transitory areas and how to include the shuttle service into the numbers.
Recent history has created sensitivity throughout Webster Township as to the accuracy of written plans to actual usage. Plans have been submitted to the Commission that were discovered misrepresenting intended use.
Despite the discord between the two sides, Board support for DUMC was obvious. Commissioner George Goodman highlighted to fellow commissioners that the church has only operated in “good faith” in responding to concerns expressed by the commission. Several times through the evening he spoke supportively of the parking plan the church has submitted. Commissioner Erica Perry echoed Goodman’s sentiments about DUMC’s “good faith” in the process.
At 10:20, much to the frustration of Aspen Group and DUMC, the Planning Commission voted to table further discussion due to lateness of the hour and the fact that DUMC had presented several documents at the time of the meeting leaving no time for the Commissioners to review.
Communication between the two sides will be ongoing.