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Leveled lots rile church neighbors

Todd Stecher, who lives on 25th Avenue and Lamonte Street, across the street from where St. Mark’s Lutheran Church wants to expand its parking, stands where the church removed two homes. (Pia Hallenberg)
Todd Stecher, who lives on 25th Avenue and Lamonte Street, across the street from where St. Mark’s Lutheran Church wants to expand its parking, stands where the church removed two homes. (Pia Hallenberg)

St. Mark’s removes homes to expand parking

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is located at the heart of the Manito Neighborhood, and like many other neighborhood churches it’s surrounded by single-family homes.

Two of those homes disappeared last fall, as St. Mark’s got ready to expand its parking lot toward 25th Avenue. Some trees were cut down, too, and the parking lot expansion took some neighbors completely by surprise.

“We were not told anything,” said Todd Stecher, who lives directly across 25th Avenue from the leveled lots. “We saw the trees had X’s on them and someone went over and talked to the logger. That’s how we found out what was going on.”

Tim Hansen, a member of the church council, said the two residential lots had 1950s-style homes on them.

“We tore one down, and one was moved,” Hansen said. “These were not historic mansions.”

One lot was bequeathed to St. Mark’s and the other was given to the church, Hansen said.

The church would like to add 25 parking stalls, but the city’s parking-to-worshipper ratio only allows for eight.

Stecher said neighbors don’t want a parking lot like the one at the drugstore on the corner of Grand Boulevard and 29th Avenue.

“I thought the church’s plans were shocking when I saw them,” Stecher said. “It looked like 80 percent of the area would be paved. We don’t want that in our historic neighborhood.”

Hansen said adequate parking is a big problem for the church but that the parking lot plans are well designed and well landscaped.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Hansen said.

St. Mark’s faces the west side of Grand Boulevard, just south of 24th Avenue, and the current lot is west of the church, south of and with access to 24th Avenue. Expanding the lot toward 25th Avenue would allow for egress to the south as well.

“We have had an issue pretty regularly with 24th Avenue being full of cars and in the winter; 24th is not a well-shoveled street from the city,” said Hansen. “Between snow and ice berms it really is a one-lane street, and we have people trying to walk up the hill to the church – it really is a safety issue to us.”

Hansen said church representatives participated in the Manito Cannon Hill neighborhood council meeting in January.

“The complete plan was presented along with the landscaping and everything that would go with it,” Hansen said. “It wasn’t real well-received.”

Stecher said that he can’t repeat what he said at the meeting because he was very upset.

St. Mark’s has followed rules and regulations with the city and a predevelopment conference was held, city planner Dave Compton said.

“Initially, the church was looking to add 40 new parking spaces. Now they are down to 25 new stalls, but they were told they could only add seven or eight new spaces,” Compton explained.

To do so, St. Mark’s must apply for a conditional use permit, which then has to go through the public hearing process.

“A stand-alone parking lot could not go into that neighborhood,” said Compton. “If they have a lot across the street or something like that, they couldn’t do it.”

Not all neighbors are upset with the development.

Christine Schaffer, who’s a real estate appraiser and has lived across the street from St. Mark’s on 24th Avenue for eight years, wrote in an e-mail that the church has been a great neighbor.

“The pastor of the church spoke with us in the spring of 2009, about their proposed parking lot,” Schaffer wrote. Churchgoers parking on each side of 24th Avenue, when there’s significant snow, turn the steep street into a single-lane road, she explained.

Schaffer doesn’t believe a parking lot like the one proposed will hurt real estate values.

“The anti-expansion neighborhood group claims they have opinions from two appraisers that indicate everyone’s property values will drop by 10-15 percent if the parking lot expansion happens. This is just blatantly false,” wrote Schaffer, adding that she had a fellow appraiser come up with a second opinion over the weekend.

For now, neighbors and churchgoers have two partially leveled lots to look at.

Stecher said his neighborhood group is going door to door, canvassing and collecting signatures.

What would he prefer to happen?

“I’d like for the church to sell the two lots to an individual who’d build a turn-of-the-century home there,” said Stecher. “For now we are waiting for the church to come to us. We feel like we haven’t been listened to.”