By MARK TODD - firstname.lastname@example.org
CONNEAUT — Efforts to relocate Conneaut’s New Leaf United Methodist Church to a spot near Route 7 and Gateway Avenue cleared its first legal hurdle at Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
Members conditionally approved preliminary plans that would enhance and expand a long-closed medical center into the church’s new home. The church’s next stop is the city zoning board of appeals, where it must seek a variance. Once more details plans are prepared, the commission must again be consulted for final approval.
“It’s really going to look nice out there,” said Ron Maki, planning chairman. “I’m happy with the plans.
New Leaf was created in 2009 from the merger of Conneaut’s Lakeview, First and East Conneaut United Methodist churches. The church is presently located in the former First UM building on Buffalo Street.
William Wiley, who is spearheading the building project, said Wednesday the church needs to square away a few funding issues, but wanted to get the permitting process under way to minimize delays once construction gets the green light.
“We want to get all the OKs and all the engineering done,” he said. “We’re trying to get all our ducks in a row.”
Initial plans call for an addition to the former Woodland Clinic, officials have said. The addition will have a striking design on the outside and boast nearly perfect acoustics inside, Wiley said.
“It has quite the ‘wow’ factor,” he said.
The community would be invited to use the facility for performances and productions, Wiley said.
Once money is no longer an issue, construction could proceed quickly, Wiley said. “This type of structure goes up in a short period of time, within a month,” he said.
The renovation/expansion project will be done in phases and includes parking for 200 vehicles, Maki said. Planning members did seek assurances the church project would not “land lock” adjoining parcels, Maki said.
“I’m impressed with what they’re going to do,” Maki said. “Everything’s moving in the right direction.”
New Leaf has its Buffalo Street church on the market. Until it is sold, the church will continue to use the building for its day care operation and occasional dinners, Wiley said.
“We want to keep a downtown presence,” he said. “While we eventually want everything at Gateway, we’re not into leaving an empty building.”