A city committee green-lighted contentious new property lines for a historic city church, along with plans for outdoor volleyball courts at Essen Haus, in a meeting Monday.
The Plan Commission approved a plan to separate the property owned by St. Raphael’s congregation into two lots that would divide Holy Redeemer School on 142 W. Johnson St.from its church, allowing the school to convert into a multi-family complex, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.
Verveer said the commission approval means the building’s conversion is likely, which would result in gutting its interior and constructing an addition to facilitate residential use. The exterior of the building would be preserved, he said.
Holy Redeemer School was built in 1892 and became a city landmark in 1999, according to a city statement. It also said the Landmarks Commission previously approved a Certificate of Appropriateness, which allowed for the addition at the back of the building.
“[This is a] historic resource that really should be cherished,” Verveer said. “It’s hard for me to be enthusiastic because of the auditorium, which would be altered drastically.”
Michael Christopher, attorney for the Holy Redeemer congregation, said the approval of the proposal would allow for financing of the project and protect the church from liability issues. He added his clients were proud of what they are doing in this project.
Parishioners of Holy Redeemer Church expressed disapproval of the proposal at the meeting, highlighting multiple concerns such as overcrowding, vandalism and losing control of the property.
Gail Geib, a parishioner at the church, said since the school occupies a small plot land and is located just yards from the church, it would not have room for adequate traffic circulation, especially on Sundays.
“Ready-access to [the] church is vital to the parish’s survival,” she said.
In addition, she said she would have other concerns for the school if it were converted to student housing as well, including vandalism. She said the walls and foundations of the 120 year-old building could not stand the load of students, who pose a threat to parish life.
Verveer said the complex would not offer parking for residents. He also said the building would likely attract Catholic students, although it would be open to all those interested.
Richard Bonomo, a parishioner of the church, said since occupancy could not be limited to Catholic students, he was concerned about the lack of control concerning who would live in the complex. He added the pastors have been negligent to parishioners’ concerns.
“I’m going to ask you to protect us from our pastors,” he said to the commission.
Verveer said the Plan Commission had limited control, and their decision could only impact the exterior of the building. What the congregation decides to do with the interior of the building, he said, is not within the city’s discretion. The building could be ready by fall 2014, he added.
Another proposal approved at the meeting was adding volleyball courts at Essen Haus on 514 E. Wilson St. With the loss of volleyball courts at the Stadium Bar, he said this would provide players a new location.
A former Stadium Bar manager is now a manager at Essen Haus and is extremely familiar with volleyball, Verveer said. The courts will be set up as soon as possible, likely in May.
The City Council will vote on final approval for both projects at their next meeting on April 30.