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  • Kevin Elliott

Traffic concerns to be addressed by church

Concerns about a potential increase of traffic along some residential streets from a proposed 29,000 square-foot expansion of St. John's Lutheran Church, at W. University Drive and Helen Avenue in Rochester, will be addressed by the city and church officials before final plans for the project are approved.

The Rochester Planning Commission on Monday, March 5, approved a preliminary site plan approval and special exception for the project, which includes a major expansion of the existing church and school building at 1011 W. University. The project also includes significant renovations in the building housing the school.

Plans to expand the church were met with overall positive comments from commissioners and members of the public who spoke at the March 5 meeting. However, commissioners and some residents living on Alice Street – a dead-end street on the south side of the property – were concerned about an increase in traffic along the road.

Rochester Planning Consultant Vidya Krishnan noted in her review of the proposed plans that traffic flow patterns presented were different than originally submitted. The revised plan, she said, indicates that traffic at the site would be diverted onto Alice Street as a means of exiting the site. Such a use, she said, would not be acceptable, as Alice is a residential street and there are other existing exits and entrances on Helen and University Drive, which is a collector street and major thoroughfare, respectively.

Rochester resident Scott Muska, who lives on Alice Street, said the church has been a good neighbor, but that he was concerned about traffic.

"The connection with Alice needs to be looked at and considered heavily," he said. "There's a substantial amount of movement there, and people already use the parking lot at times as a cut-through."

Commissioners and those representing the church discussed the possibility of keeping the exit to Alice gated and closed off, as well as having a limited traffic analysis done by a traffic engineer to see what solutions could be found to address the concerns.

Mike Wilusz, director of operations for the church, pushed back against the idea of having a traffic analysis done, which would be a measure that is less comprehensive than a formal traffic study. He said current use, which would be expected to be the same in the future, has about 20 cars using Alice as an exit. Residents who live along the street who spoke confirmed that estimate is accurate. Still, the discussion didn't alleviate concerns about future traffic.

Wilusz said plans to close the gate and access to Alice may be acceptable, but warned that the Rochester Department of Public Works could have limited access to the drive, which its trucks use as a turnaround and use to move snow during the winter plowing season.

Planning commissioners elected to give preliminary site plan approval and special exception to the project, with the church and city to reach an agreement on the issue within 60 days, prior to final approval being granted.

The approval also included a list of eight additional requirements, which the church and city indicated had been met or were in the process of being met. Those requirements include vehicle access at the site; pedestrian access; off-street parking; landscaping; screening; trash removal; lighting; architecture; and signage issues.

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