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Church plans raise parking questions

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2002

Ambassador Baptist Church begins its quest tonight to become the first such church in Shaler.

The church's congregation wants to move out of cramped and borrowed rooms in Ross and buy a former elementary school turned office building at 904 Mt. Royal Blvd.

"We need to get our own place," said Tom Stepnick, a deacon of the church, which has about 40 members. "Our growth is kind of limited now because of the space we have."

The independent Baptist church is requesting a "conditional use" for the site, meaning a church is a permitted use for the site, but it must be approved by a vote of the Shaler commissioners.

The issue will go before the planning commission at 7:30 tonight at the Shaler municipal building, 300 Wetzel Road. The planning commission will make a recommendation to the board of commissioners, which could vote on it as soon as the Jan. 14 meeting.

Stepnick said most of the church members reside in the North Hills and the pastor lives in Shaler near the building they hope to buy.

Stepnick said the two-story building has about 10,000 square feet, and by knocking out some of the office walls in the lower level they can create an excellent sanctuary.

He said the structure has been in use as an office building until fairly recently, so it is up to code and ready to go.

"It's much more room than we can currently use, and we're obviously looking for growth and expansion and to grow into the building," Stepnick said.

Shaler zoning officer and building inspector Bob Vita said the proposed location for the church could prove a problem.

"With everything on the (Mount Royal) Boulevard, it's parking," he said.

The site has about 25 spaces, Vita said, and "it's questionable whether 25 would be enough."

Since the building used as a church conceivably could accommodate many people, "That's definitely going to be one of the big stumbling blocks," he said.

Stepnick said that with four people per vehicle, the site's 27 parking slots allow for use by up to 108 people.

"Our congregation, at 40 people, wouldn't be a problem," he said. "At 40 people, we can effectively double that and still be within the parking requirement."

Stepnick said church representatives also are talking to neighboring businesses about the possibility of having occasional access to some of those businesses' slots.

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