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  • Kevin Elliott

Regulating places of worship considered

Rochester Hills City Council members on Monday, October 23, approved temporarily halting the conversion of residential dwellings into places of worship while the city looks into the possibility of regulating the process in the future.

The issue comes on the heels of the approval of a site plan on Monday, October 17 by the Rochester Hills Planning Commission to renovate a 1,300-square-foot home at 1167 Brewster Road to accommodate Detroit Meeting Rooms.

That plan includes the addition of a parking lot for meetings, which would be held Sunday mornings and Monday evenings. The conversion also calls for a paved circular drive for fire access and erecting a fence and landscaping to create a buffer from neighboring properties.

Rochester Hills Director of Planning and Development Sara Roediger said places of worship are uses permitted by right in most zoning districts in the city, including one-family residential districts.

"Because the site plan met all of the city ordinances, the planning commission approved the site plan. However many commission members indicated their discomfort with the idea of converting an existing structure that had been built, historically used for and surrounded by residential uses," she said in a letter to city council members. "Following approval of the site plan for Detroit Meeting Rooms, the commission made a motion to request the city council adopt a temporary moratorium on the conversion of residential dwellings to places of worship to allow city staff and the planning commission time to study and recommend to city council possible ordinance changes to regulate the conversion of residential dwellings to places of worship in a fashion that is compatible and harmonious with the character of, and residents' reasonable expectations in, residential neighborhoods."

Councilwoman Stephanie Morita, who serves on the planning commission, said the planning commission struggled with approving the site plan because it involves a residence surrounded by residential homes.

"When you buy your home you don't expect it to back onto a meeting house basically if there's a residence behind it," she said.

Morita said the moratorium will give the planning department time to draft an ordinance to give more options to the commission in future events to protect residential properties.

"My concern was that they are going to be using this property very early in the morning, and you're going to have headlights now coming into this property. They are expecting 40 people on average, coming at 5:30 in the morning on a Sunday," she said. "From a neighbor's perspective, that's not ideal. We would like to have some additional tools and protections available to our residents and planning commission to more appropriately develop these."

Council approved the 180-day moratorium on the conversion of such properties into places of worship. The moratorium doesn't apply to places of worship that have already received council approval.

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