Pastor: Montco church, open space can co-exist

Posted: July 24, 2014

The pastor assured the crowd that his congregation wanted the same things as the residents who are worried about a plan to build a new church in the Hatfield Township neighborhood.

"You want open space. We want open space. You want walking trails, we want walking trails," John Cope, pastor of Keystone Fellowship, in Montgomeryville, told the standing-room-only crowd at the township building Wednesday night. "Softball fields, baseball fields. We want that."

But many neighbors don't want an expansive new building - church or otherwise - in the middle of it all.

That difference of opinion is at the core of the church's effort to change the zoning on the church-owned property, known as the Bishop Tract, which would permit Keystone Fellowship to erect a 75,000-square-foot building on Orvilla Road in Hatfield.

On Wednesday church officials made their first official presentation of the plan in a public hearing on the congregation's application to change the zoning of the 43-acre parcel from limited industrial to institutional.

A crowd of at least 125 attended the hearing.

Officials of the 1,000-member congregation outlined a sketch plan for a 75,000-square foot building with 615 parking spaces for congregants and visitors who would access the campus from one tree-lined entrance on Orvilla Road.

The building and parking lots would be surrounded by open space, trees, and hedges that would obscure virtually all of the structure and parking lots from the road, church officials said.

A ballfield is planned for the rear of the property, which could be shared with the township. The church plans to donate nearly 10 acres of open space that abuts School Road Park.

If the zoning change is approved and the church erects a new building, many residents said they are concerned about the threats of increased run-off flooding and traffic, the loss of open space, and the potential loss of an historic house on the property.

The house, a log structure dating to the 1760s, was the likely meeting place for the Funkites, a dissident branch of the Mennonites who split with the church over the Revolutionary War.

Dan Cardone, the church's business manager, said congregation officials plan to disassemble the house, catalogue it, and somehow put the house in storage before the winter.

The church considered renovating the building and turning it into offices or a coffee shop, but the house is too far from the main building for a coffee shop, too small for offices, and too expensive to renovate, Cardone said.

Efforts to find a township or organization interested in relocating the house have yielded no takers. Cardone said the church would be willing to donate it to preserve it.

"If someone wants it, it's their's. We're not selling it," Cardone said.

Resident Cindy Bourgeois, who has collected nearly 700 signatures opposing the zoning-change application, said she was troubled by the "huge" size of a building on what she called a "crown jewel" of open space.

Bourgeois planned to speak during the meeting's public comments portion, but the commissioners continued the hearing until Aug. 27 because of time considerations.

Many other attendees also planned to speak, the majority in support of the church's plan, according to an informal poll of the audience taken by Zipfel.

David Galloway, a church member, said that concerned neighbors views are perhaps colored by their experiences with other churches that are merely property owners in their neighborhoods.

"We would be more of a help to the community," Galloway said. "They don't know that we're different."

kholmes@phillynews.com

610-313-8211.

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