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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wallingford Downtown church plan encounters opposition

As published in the Record Journal on Tuesday March 19, 2013

By Eric Heredia
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2243
Twitter: @EHerediaRJ

WALLINGFORD - The Zoning Board of Appeals voted Monday to continue its public hearing on whether a church can move into a storefront at 144 Center St.

Pastor Arcadio Negron, of the Iglesias Church, and parishioner Fred Ortiz testified before the board. They were applying for a parking variance to allow 14 parking spaces where 93 are required.

Ortiz said the Pentecostal church has 30 to 35 parishioners who are carpooled in vans to attend the church’s largest service on Sundays. Ortiz said the church would have at most five or six vehicles in the parking lot at one time.

The church also would like to set up a day care area for church members in the basement of the 3,000-square-foot storefront, which for decades was home to Bolio’s Sporting Goods. Ortiz said it will be a place for children, so they do not disturb the church services, which are also held on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

ZBA Chairman Michael Glidden told Ortiz that he should speak to the landlord and fire marshal about installing a sprinkler system. Town Planner Kacie Costello said another legal notice may have to run because the previous notice did not include the use of the basement.

During public comments against the application, downtown business owner John LeTourneau said he had concerns about the parking situation and giving up prime retail space. He did not oppose the church or its views, but was concerned about the overall view of downtown, and said another location away from downtown might be better.

LeTourneau, who serves on the Town Council, said if downtown loses another retail space, it probably won’t come back. He said the area is deteriorating and the business community has to “get its arms around what we want down there.”

Theresa Cipriani, co-owner of the Serenity Spa and Day Salon at 118 Center St., agreed with LeTourneau and said she would prefer the storefront space be leased to a retail business that would “help all the other merchants do better.”

Liz Landow, director of the Wallingford Center non profit organization, said she has heard concerns about parking from tenants who live above 144 Center St.

The public hearing on the church plan is expected to resume at the ZBA’s April meeting.

In other business, the board approved a special exception request by Steven Lazarus to operate a bed and breakfast at his 63 Curtis Ave. home, and denied a variance request and special exception request by Joel Kummer, who wanted to build a garage that would have been larger than his home at 6 Overlook Drive.