Religious school proposes building church

November 10, 2017

Sterling Academy South, a small religious school in Bloomfield Township which is proposing to build a new place of worship on the same campus, the New Detroit Meeting Room, at 1050 E. Square Lake Road, met with considerable resistance from neighbors in the community at the township planning commission meeting on Monday, November 6, with the commission tabling the issue in order to get clarifications on certain questions.

The property in question is located at the southwest corner of Square Lake and Squirrel roads, adjoining a residential lot and neighborhood, covering approximately 20 acres. The proposed New Detroit Meeting Room would be a 16,778 square foot building that would be built to the rear of the school. Experts, including landscape consultant Michael Dul, consulted by the Bloomfield Township planning department determined there would be no impact upon the site’s wetlands nor its 25-foot natural features setback.

Bloomfield Township Planning, Building and Ordinance Director Patti Voelker explained that the township’s 2007 master plan for future land use “recommends single family uses with accessory and support uses such as places of worship, schools and other institutional/civic uses. The proposed place of worship use for the single family lot will be consistent with the master plan designation.”

However, she said, houses of worship are considered special land uses which require approval from the township board.

Students who attend Sterling Academy South and their families are members of Plymouth Brethren of Ireland, a conservative, nonconformist Evangelical Christian movement whose history can be traced to Dublin, Ireland in the 1820s, and originated in Anglicanism. Members follow a rigid code of conduct based on strict Bible teaching, which provides a firm moral framework and is focused on a strong family unit. There are approximately 40 congregations in the United States.

Prior to purchasing the Bloomfield Township property from the estate of inventor Harvey Oshinsky, the church and school was located in Royal Oak. This congregation has about 75 families, with 40 to 50 families attending Sterling Academy South.

A number of congregants attended the planning commission meeting to defend their right to build the New Detroit Meeting House, while others in attendance at the three-and-a-half hour meeting sought to squelch their application either because they did not feel a house of worship belongs in a residential neighborhood, or were concerned about disturbing nearby wetlands, trees, or the impact to the homes.

“My comment is that everyone’s property rights are equally important to them as yours are to you,” said township supervisor Leo Savoie. “I believe it (the house of worship) is allowable under the ordinance, but (township attorney) Bill Hampton is checking.”

Savoie noted that there are other houses of worship in the township in residential neighborhoods, such as St. Regis Catholic Church.

Planning commissioner Richard Mintz made a motion to approve Sterling Academy South being permitted to build New Detroit Meeting Room, but the motion failed for lack of support.

Similarly, commissioner Jeff Salz sought to deny their site plan review/special land use permit, asserting that the house of worship does not belong in the area, but there was no support.

Commissioners then tabled the proposal in order to get clarifications on the outstanding questions.

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