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  • Kevin Elliott

Township expands locations for places of worship

The Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees on Monday, January 14, approved a zoning amendment to permit places of worship as a special land use in the township's office building districts.

The expansion of places of worship to office districts was proposed at the request of property owners at 36300 Woodward Avenue in order to allow the Chai Center to locate to the building at the northeast corner of Woodward Avenue and Maywood Road.

The board of trustees in June referred the matter to the township planning commission. An introduction and first draft was approved by trustees on December 10. On January 14, the board expanded the ordinance to include current and future office buildings.

The amendment and change was passed by a vote of 4-3, which will expand where places of worship are permitted in the township to allow office space to be used. Trustees Dani Walsh and David Buckley voted against the amendment, along with Bloomfield Township Clerk Jan Roncelli. Currently, the majority of the township's 17 places of worship are located in single-family residentially zoned areas that allow them as a special land use subject to meeting certain standards

Bloomfield Township Building and Ordinance Director Patti Voelker said the property owners originally petitioned the township to rezone the property from O-1 (Office Building) to RP (Research Park). Because the township's master plan recommends office and mixed uses along the portion of Woodward in question, the township opted to consider allowing places of worship in O-1 districts under specific conditions. The district is intended to serve as a transition between commercial districts or major thoroughfares and adjacent single-family residential districts.

Township Supervisor Leo Savoie, who voted in favor of the amendment, said he supported it because it only permits places of worship under a special land use approval.

"There are some properties that I feel are inappropriate (for this use) due to the size of the property, due to the ingress and egress ... if the property is large enough to support it, I'm not necessarily opposed. In my mind, the key is the special land use restriction being in place," Savoie said. "I would vote in favor of it, but for the specific property in question, I would not vote for it. It does egress into a residential street, and if they have more than the 10 worshipers they have today, there is no parking there except on other people's property or on the street with the ingress and egress."

Under the approved amendment, places of worship seeking to locate in an office building district must submit floor plans to determine the maximum occupancy for calculating required parking; maintain an ingress/egress right-of-way of at least 86 feet from a major thoroughfare; provide an obscuring wall or landscape to buffer vehicle headlights toward any residential property; and provide additional parking for accessory uses customary to places of worship.

In its review, the planning commission said that customary hours for places of worship don't generally interfere with the typical days or hours of operation for an office building. Further, the allowance of small congregations or boutique churches address underutilized or vacant tenant spaces.

Roncelli, who opposed the zoning expansion, disagreed with the assessment, asserting that places of worship typically have active event calendars.

"You forget that they have activities daily and weekly, on afternoons and nightly," she said. "You're putting these office owners in a predicament, and I don't think it's right this time."

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