Religious school proposes building church

The Bloomfield Township Planning Commission on Monday, January 20, recommended approval to the township board of trustees for a site plan and special land use request to construct the Detroit Meeting Room at the Sterling Academy South School campus at 1050 E. Square Lake Road.

Sterling Academy South School is proposing building a 16,778-square-foot meeting room/worship space at the rear of its property behind the existing school. The plan calls for enhanced landscaping, including preserving 23 legacy trees and planting 120 new evergreen trees to shield headlights and reduce outdoor lighting spillover.

Places of worship are considered special land uses and require approval from the township board.

Plans for the building go back to 2017, when a public hearing was held to consider an initial site plan and special land use proposal. At that time, there were questions about allowing two principal uses to be used at the same site. The plans were also opposed by some neighboring residents, who voiced concerns about whether a house of worship belongs in a residential neighborhood, as well as concerns about disturbing nearby wetlands, trees and impacting homes.

 The township's zoning board of appeals (ZBA) in June of 2019 heard the request to allow the existing school to occupy 6.78 acres of land when 10 acres are required, and thereby allowing a proposed place of worship to occupy 3.22 acres. The ZBA approved the variance subject to conditions on a revised site plan that would include the proposed landscaping and tree plan.

Bloomfield Township Planning Building and Ordinance Director Patti Voelker said the public hearing on Monday. January 20, ended with the planning commission forwarding both the site plan and special use request to the township board of trustees with the recommendation to approve both.

"The primary concerns were regarding site engineering and water management and runoff identified by residents in that the area which, in general, has a high water table and they have had flooding issues," she said of the current objections by residents. "That being a very critical issue, they were concerned about how the proposal would address that and if there would be any impact on adjoining properties."

The updated plan, including a water management plan, was reviewed by the township's engineering consultant, Hubbell, Roth & Clark, as well as the township's engineering department, and both approved the plans as a viable approach. The plans will now be forwarded to the board of trustees for consideration at a future meeting.

Students and families at Sterling Academy South are members of Plymouth Brethren of Ireland, a conservative, non-conformist 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 about 40 congregations in the United States.

The church and school were previously located in Royal Oak, prior to purchasing the property in Bloomfield Township from the estate of inventor Stan Oshinsky. There are about 75 families in the congregation, with about 40 to 50 attending the academy.

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