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House of worship okayed despite objections

By Lisa Brody

The Detroit Meeting Room, a new house of worship for the Plymouth Brethren Church, received approvals for its combined site plan and special land use proposal on the campus of Sterling Academy South at the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, January 25, following almost four hours of public comment, most of which expressed concerns from neighbors about building on the site.

The site plan is for a rectangular, 16,778 square foot one-story building to be constructed on the rear of a parcel located adjacent to the Sterling Academy South, on the southwest corner of Square Lake and Squirrel roads. The property backs up to the residential neighborhood of Bloomfield Hills Estates No. 2 to the south, has the International Academy to the west, with the residential neighborhood of Kentmoor No. 1 to the east across Squirrel Road, and the residential neighborhoods of Adams Square and Adams Square No. 3 to the north across Square Lake Road.

The Detroit Meeting Room is planned as a house of worship with 708 seats, with a parking lot to accommodate 233 spaces, with overflow parking prepared for events along Square Lake in Troy, where church officials said they will encourage carpool and churchgoers to RSVP so they can then limit attendees. Planned hours are daily, with group services Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 10:30 a.m.; and Sunday at 6 a.m, 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., as well as weddings and other events.

Sterling Academy plans to continue as a school. It currently has about 45 students in grades 3-12.

Patti Voelker, township director of planning, building and ordinances, explained that the Detroit Meeting Room had first come before the township's planning commission and design review board in November 2017, to request consideration of a site plan and special land use proposal to construct a new place of worship on the same campus as the Sterling Academy South School, located at 1050 E. Square Lake Road. At the time, the planning commission tabled the site plan and special land use request to allow the opportunity for the applicant to meet with the adjacent homeowners, as well as to have former township attorney Bill Hampton provide a legal opinion on approved uses.

Hampton provided a response to the planning commission in December 2017, stating that while the parcel is zoned residential, “the planning commission may take into account harmonious and compatibility considerations in addition to the uses permitted in the R-2 District. It was also noted that multiple uses and buildings are not prohibited on a given lot. Lastly, the letter advised that a request for a variance was necessary due to the insufficient land area that does not meet the school use site standards,” Voelker said.

A variance request was made to the zoning board of appeals on June 11, 2019, Voelker said, to allow the existing Sterling Academy South School to occupy 6.78 acres of a parcel of land when 10 acres are required, and to allow the proposed place of worship to occupy 3.22 acres of the parcel, which was approved along with landscape and lighting conditions.

There is a small lake on the site, and additional trees and evergreens are proposed, as well as a 36-inch hedge, to provide a a greenbelt adjacent to the parking area along Square Lake and Squirrel Road frontages. Designs will protect wetlands on the site, with 23 trees to be saved and one to be removed.

Numerous members of the public spoke out over Zoom, as well as having 90 letters read into the public record, speaking out primarily in opposition to the house of worship. Numerous members of the church, some who reside in the township but many who live in Troy, Rochester and Clawson, spoke out in support of its proposals.

Residents' concerns centered on the potential for an increase in traffic, fears of headlights from the parking lots coming into neighbors windows, flooding and water runoff.

“It's unfair to the residents who live in the area,” said one resident.

“There have been significant improvements since it was presented to the planning commission,” noted trustee Neal Barnett, who also serves on the planning commission.

“Noise concerns, pollution, traffic, ground water are all concerns of mine too,” said clerk Martin Brook, before noting he was impressed with the efforts made by the developer and contractor to remedy all concerns.

“This is a project that has been going on for quite a while and you have addressed all the issues,” said supervisor Dani Walsh. “It is noticeable that you listened to all the concerns.”

“Bloomfield is a residential community. We are a community that is diverse. We take pride in our houses of worship. I hope this house of worship gives peace to its congregants and if there are issues, they address them,” said treasurer Brian Kepes.

Trustees voted 6-1 to approve the site plan and special land use proposal, with trustee Stephanie Fakih opposing.

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