Pastor: Montco church, open space can co-exist

Posted: July 26, 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 audience at the township building. "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 a 43-acre property it owns, known as the Bishop Tract, to let it build a 75,000-square-foot facility on Orvilla Road.

On Wednesday church officials made their first official presentation of their plan in a hearing on the congregation's application to change the zoning from limited industrial to institutional. At least 125 people attended.

Leaders of the 1,000-member congregation outlined a sketch plan for a building with 615 parking spaces. The site would be reached via a tree-lined entrance.

The building and 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, and 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 were approved, many residents said, they would be concerned about the threats of increased run-off flooding and traffic, the loss of open space, and the potential loss of a historic house on the property.

The 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 theirs. 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 public comments, 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 Tom Zipfel, president of the board of commissioners.

David Galloway, a church member, said neighbors' views may be 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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