By a 2-1 vote, the Genoa Township Board of Trustees approved Wednesday a final development plan amendment for Genoa Baptist Church at a two-hour-plus meeting.
The church, at 7562 Lewis Center Road, will build an addition and add parking and landscaping on its nearly 88-acre property. In a letter to the trustees, architect firm The McKnight Group wrote, “This new facility would also allow the church to offer more opportunities to host community events such as graduation ceremonies, community and leadership training events, and available for times when the community is in need (disaster relief, etc.).”
Genoa Baptist Church has been used in the past for community events such as voting and concerts, and also is the site for Genoa Christian Academy, which offers classes from preschool through 12th grade. Currently, the school’s gym and the worship area share space. Pastor Scott Lewald told the trustees that tear-down and set-up between services and sporting events was time-consuming.
Church officials said the 54,727-square-foot addition would mean they would have a dedicated 1,500-seat worship space and a large foyer, new offices, and added Sunday school classrooms. In addition, the church would add 72 parking spaces to the lot, install a new chain link fence around the playground, put in landscaping and parking islands, and a new entry sign. Last, but not least, the church would redistribute what’s been called “Mount Genoa,” a mound of dirt in the back.
Church architect Jeffrey T. Hutcheson said the steeple would be 35-foot-high, which is the maximum allowed by zoning, and the ceiling of the worship space would be 30-feet high. He said this was the lowest he could make it and preserve the ambience of the space, considering there would be choir risers and speakers in the room. Prior requests were for a 40-foot-high steeple.
The trustees made the ruling because there was an amendment — a significant change — to the plan since it was introduced earlier this year.
Joe Shafer, the township’s director of development and zoning, gave his recommendation for the church, summarizing a 40-page document. He said he had driven down the street at night and did not feel the lighting was an issue any longer, as some neighboring residents had said. In addition, Shafer said that if the Village of Galena were to approve a proposed residential/commercial project at Blackhawk Golf Course, the developer would install a traffic signal at the busy intersection of Lewis Center Road and state Route 3.
There was a chance for the public to comment. Of those that spoke, two Lewis Center Road residents who live across from the church said they have had ongoing problems with light pollution — lights used at the church, and headlights of cars exiting the church.
One of the residents said the church was going to install some trees in his front yard to cut down on the lights. Trustee Connie Goodman reminded him that the township would not be involved if he had a problem with the trees.
The other resident said he was still receiving shadows from the church in his yard and asked when it could be fixed. Trustee Karl Gebhardt asked if the church was still trying to come up with a solution, and he was told yes.
Frank Dantonio cast the lone no vote, saying he did not agree with the height divergence and did not think the plan was in the best interests of Genoa. He asked if the church could dig below ground level to meet the height requirement. Dantonio asked if the lights could be angled and lowered, and he was told they were lowered and zoning requires lights to be parallel to the ground. He asked if the landscaping and parking island work could be completed this fall.
“I think we’re kind of getting into the weeds here on construction,” said Gebhardt. He felt the addition was in the best interest of the township and “will help develop the moral and general welfare of the present and future inhabitants of Genoa Township,” as expressed in the McKnight Group letter.
Goodman said she had been on the Zoning Commission in 2014 when the church last approached the township with an addition. She said some of the items that were approved were done, and others were not. For example, one item was maintaining live trees in the parking islands. Goodman was concerned whether everything would be completed. Pastor Lewald said the problem back then was they had run out of money, which wouldn’t be a problem this time around. He said everything would be completed in a single phase.
One of the conditions listed on the approval of the plan was that the exterior work would be completed by Jan. 1, 2021; and the landscaping by Aug. 1, 2020.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.