Christ Chapel, Fort Worth neighborhood haggle over zoning case

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- Christ Chapel and Arlington Heights neighborhood leaders are working on a potential compromise in an eight-month-old zoning case that renewed fears about the highly popular church's expansion into the West Side neighborhood.

City Councilman Dennis Shingleton, whose district includes the neighborhood and church at Montgomery Street and Interstate 30, had the council continue a vote on the case for 30 days at Tuesday's meeting.

Church and neighborhood representatives are negotiating new provisions to a 9-year-old agreement that limited Christ Chapel's expansion. Christ Chapel is seeking the rezoning of several residential properties it purchased since 2011 north of Pershing Avenue to allow parking, which the neighborhood objected to. Arlington Heights leaders had sought the continuance.

"Nobody's right, and nobody's wrong," Shingleton said Tuesday. "There are uses (of the property in question) that can be justified, and I can certainly see the homeowner association's point of view."

Christina Patoski, president of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association, told the council Tuesday night there's still "tremendous opposition" to the zoning request. She submitted 80 letters opposed from homeowners around the church.

Leaders of a steering committee handling the neighborhood's side of the talks said Tuesday they're amenable to recommending the rezoning to the neighborhood, but want, among other things, Christ Chapel to agree to firm boundaries limiting its growth.

The church told the neighborhood Tuesday that it agreed to no more building and parking development north of an alley between Pershing and El Campo Avenue, and the same provision west of Owasso Street. The alley and Owasso are the north and west boundaries where the church abuts the neighborhood.

The church, however, wants to preserve the right to continue to acquire residential property for continued use as homes, such as for clergy and out-of-town visitors, and to be able to receive gifts of property.

"If someone gives us a house, or if we have the opportunity to purchase a residence that will continue to be a residence, we would like to continue to have that opportunity," Rick Neves, Christ Chapel's chief operating officer, said Tuesday.

Steering committee leaders said Tuesday they're trying to reach a consensus on how much they want to give on that point.

"Them simply buying property on the west side of Owasso and simply using it for parsonages, I'm OK with that," Kevin Peters, who lives on El Campo and is one of the steering committee members, said. "But there are some in the neighborhood who are not.."

In agreeing to make the alley the north boundary all the way east to Montgomery Street, Christ Chapel assuaged steering committee fears that the church was interested in growing north along Montgomery.

Shingleton, who attended a Monday night negotiation with church and neighborhood representatives, told the council Tuesday the two sides were down to haggling over "a very, very small couple of items." The council continued the case until its May 7 meeting.

Neves and the steering committee leaders acknowledged the negotiations were still delicate.

"We could hit a sticking point and the whole thing could unravel," Peters said.

The church's growth has been a source of tension with the nearby homeowners for years.

Christ Chapel agreed in 2004 to a 23-year memorandum of understanding with the neighborhood that included an agreement to buy no more property on the north side of Pershing Avenue for seven years.

When that provision expired in 2011, Christ Chapel began buying property north of Pershing, purchasing 11 lots since then. The property is zoned B-Two Family, and the church is seeking a rezoning to planned development/specific use to allow parking. The city's zoning commission, in a split vote, recently recommended the zoning change.

The church has 934 spaces on site, and it borrows 160 from nearby property owners. It needs a total of about 1,270 spaces to handle Sunday needs, Neves said.

As part of its zoning petition, Christ Chapel said it planned another 172 spaces. But in the most recent talks, it's agree to reduce that number by about 40, Neves and the neighborhood leaders said.

The neighborhood has questioned why the church needs to acquire more parking area to handle once-a-week needs for Sunday services. Residents have suggested that the church consider letting worshippers continue to park on the street and "staggering" its three Sunday services.

The church has noted that parking on the neighborhood streets has been an irritant to some homeowners. And Neves said staggering services won't work for the church.

"What you're asking us to do is change our programming model, which is essentially asking us to change our church," he said.

Christ Chapel, in negotiations, agreed to install a green space between the parking and homes.

The Arlington Heights association's executive committee will meet Monday and hopes to have a final draft of the memorandum of understanding with the church to review, said Paul Hooper, another of the Arlington Heights steering committee members.

Beyond that, the neighborhood's negotiating team plans to hold a public forum on the case April 10, and present it to the neighborhood's general membership meeting April 15.

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808

Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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