Church requests rezoning

BAZETTA – Cobblestone Drive is only about 25 feet long and the calm wooded acreage beyond it was supposed to become a residential development.

But its recent purchase by Living Word Sanctuary has neighbors concerned.

It’s not the church, which currently is operating out of the YWCA in Warren, they disagree with, but the land’s possible zoning change.

“C-3 – I call it the motherload,” said Jennifer Nicholas, one of the residents worried about the zone change from residential to commercial.

Nicholas lives in the Timber Creek Heights development and said the 33-acre plot was supposed to become more of the same until it went into foreclosure.

In March 2010, Home Savings and Loan of Youngstown purchased the land from the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office for $391,000. August 2012, Living Word purchased the land for $102,500 as R-1, suited for developing singing family dwellings.

The plans drafted for the church call for a 202-space parking lot, a large church building, a picnic shelter, retention pond and a volleyball pit. It would require developing about 14 acres. The remaining land is planned to remain wooded, mostly on the east side of McCleary Jacoby Road.

The plans call for a landscaped mound to be built along the back yard of several houses on Bianca Lane. Meanwhile, Cobblestone Drive will continue to be a road to nowhere, as an entrance drive to the church is to be built off of Niles-Cortland Road.

The size of the development is the reason for the rezoning. By code, R-1 may house a church as long as it does not exceed 3 acres of development. The next step up, R-2 zoning, allows 10 acres of development.

Church officials attended several township meetings to explain their plans and justify the rezoning. They promised not to sell the land as C-3 for a profit to companies in the future and sympathized with the residents’ concerns.

Pastor Nick DeJacimo of Living Word Sanctuary on Wednesday after a service in the YWCA in Warren said they purchased the land so they can build a new church to praise the word of Jesus Christ.

“We need the zone change because it is a residential area and we need more than three-and-a-half acres for the church,” DeJacimo said. “We are still talking to our architects about what will be needed.”

DeJacimo said there is no other issue to discuss..

“We’re all God-fearing people, but if you’re going to build a church then build on the one-to-three acres that you’re allowed to,” resident John Dorman said.

Dorman lives on Bianca Lane, facing the controversial plot and said his opinion is shared by all of his neighbors. In fact, Nicholas said they have collected nearly 200 signatures of community residents opposing the rezoning.

They have their reasons. C-3 allows for the broadest amount of commercial development, including wholesale lumber sales, Internet cafes, animal kennels and tractor sales. The land is open for building any type of company, except those considered industrial. C-3 zoning borders the property to the north where Farmer Jim’s indoor soccer arena is located.

Bazetta’s zoning board denied the zoning change request July 17. However, the final decision is up to the Bazetta trustees who will be voting on the issue 7 p.m. Friday at the administration building.

“No one has said we do not want the church there. But if the church would decide to sell it for a profit, we might have an Outback Steak House in our back yards,” she said.

Among other reasons are increased traffic, neighborhood roads being used as shortcuts, light pollution and a decrease in property value of their homes. Nicholas said there is a Realtor in the neighborhood who told her that rezoning would cause their homes to lose property value.

“I think it is a big financial part in everyone’s life when they buy their first house and to decide this is where they’re investing their money and this is home,” Dorman said.

He’s worried about a financial impact on the home he purchased in 2006 in which to live with his family, including two young children.

“All the trees and the heavily wooded area I am looking at will be gone,” he said.

The Trumbull County Planning Commission reviewed the request and recommended a denial of the rezone in a letter to the township’s zoning commission. Several reasons were cited, including incompatibility with surrounding land use and optimal C-3 land available elsewhere.

“Vacant Commercial ‘C-3’ zoned land is readily available within the township in areas more suitable for commercial development,” the letter reads.

The letter mentions that the change does not fit with the township’s comprehensive plan for future land use. The plan refers to the current Timber Creek area as a “significant residential housing development” and calls the southeast quadrant of the township “prime for future residential development” because of access to sewer and water lines.

The most desirable area for new residential development is between state Route 5 and 46, where the proposed church is to be located.

“Because of the residential character of this neighborhood, future commercial development should be commercial office professional and smaller retail uses,” the plan reads.

Nicholas speculated that if the land does get rezoned it will cost taxpayers money to possibly widen Niles-Cortland Road to accommodate more traffic. She said church officials said they purchased the land knowing it was R-1 because the cost was affordable.

“Someone said it’s like they bought it for worms and are hoping the trustees will wave their wand and make it caviar,” she said.