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Pastor seeks zoning change for potential church in Pleasant Hills

| Saturday, June 21, 2014, 12:56 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Jeff Winters, founding/lead pastor of Freedom Life Center Inc., looks at a 17-acre parcel of land off Route 51 in Pleasant Hills where he hopes to build a new church.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Jeff Winters, founding/lead pastor of Freedom Life Center Inc., looks at a 17-acre parcel of land off Route 51 in Pleasant Hills where he hopes to build a new church.

The Rev. Jeff Winters of Freedom Life Center in Pleasant Hills has a vision for a 17-acre vacant lot in his community.

He wants to build a new church on a parcel, commonly known as the Plaza Road Property, behind Primanti Brothers along Route 51.

“We see ourselves as a community church,” Winters said. “We've been here in Pleasant Hills for four years. We just feel a connection to this borough. We feel like we're an asset to this borough, and we want to continue our presence here.”

The land is zoned residential. Winters went before borough council at a public hearing on Monday, hoping to have it rezoned for public use.

Councilors discussed the pastor's proposal, financing of the project and potential increased traffic flow.

Winters has been in negotiations with the property owner for about five months and has a sales agreement contingent upon the land's rezoning.

Councilman Regis Brown said Winters could purchase the property prior to rezoning, and council could take action at a later date.

Winters said that is not a feasible option.

“I would never risk the church's money on buying it and then trying to get it rezoned afterward,” he said.

Winters said he plans on using the land as collateral for a minimum $600,000 loan with Brentwood Bank for church development. The whole project could cost approximately $750,000.

Preliminary plans include a 500-seat auditorium, gymnasium, coffee shop, kitchen, a youth center and classrooms for children's programs.

Winters said the new church will be aesthetically pleasing and its development would not disturb nearby trees.

Borough Solicitor Fred Jug Jr. said a new traffic light near the proposed site could be necessary, and the $200,000 cost would be passed on to Winters.

Winters said he's not concerned with that possibility, noting the only increased traffic will be for a short time on Sundays and an off-duty officer could be hired to help direct traffic, if necessary.

Council ultimately tabled action on the rezoning request until its July 21 meeting.

Winters said he looks forward to hearing council's decision next month.

“I think they're going to weigh everything that I said, and I think they're going to vote in such a way that they think is the most beneficial for the borough,” Winters said. “I don't know if it's in my favor or not.”

Winters started his church in his home about four years ago. They currently congregate in the former New Wine Harvest Church along Old Clairton Road near the Pleasant Hills Public Library.

Winters said the church only seats about 105 people, and he has about 250 members and three services.

“We've just run out of room,” he said. “The church just keeps growing and growing and I don't have enough space inside the church, and I don't have enough parking. We've been looking now for over a year and a half for some place to move to.”

The only other offer for the vacant lot in the past five years has been for a retirement home. That project was turned down.

The borough's planning commission approved the pastor's request by a vote of 3-1 on May 20.

Groundbreaking could take place within a year if everything goes smoothly.

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