Church plans project redesign in wake of variance denial

Contributing Writer

A plan to turn a former grocery store at Foley Boulevard and 105th Lane, Coon Rapids, into a church has hit a snag.

Answer In Jesus Slavic Mission Church received conditional use permit and site plan approvals on a 3-2-vote by the Coon Rapids Planning Commission Nov. 17, 2016 to move to the formerly Liberty Park Grocery store property and build an addition.

But it needed a setback variance for the parking lot along Foley and 105th Lane and that required approval from the Coon Rapids Board of Adjustment and Appeals.

The board Jan. 5 unanimously denied the variance because it failed to meet any of the criteria for approval.

According to Scott Harlicker, Coon Rapids planner, the church has two options – revising the site plan to eliminate the variance or appeal the board’s decision to the Coon Rapids City Council.

In an interview Monday, church member Dennis Zhigar, who made a presentation on the variance request to the board, said there will be no appeal to the council.

Instead, the church plans to redesign the project so no variance is needed, he said.

Whether the revised site plan has to go back to the planning commission for approval depends on the extent of the changes, Harlicker said.

“If they are significant, the revised site plan will require commission approval,” he said Tuesday.

The church’s site plan approved by the commission renovates the existing building, constructs a 3,067 square-foot addition and installs a 28-space parking lot, the requirement for the 110-seat sanctuary, Harlicker said.

However, the proposed parking lot has a setback of 6 feet from 105th Lane when the code requires a 20-foot setback, he said.

To receive a variance, an applicant has to show there are practical difficulties in complying with the ordinance – it cannot be used in a reasonable manner, it must be the minimum to make reasonable use of the property, circumstances unique to the property not created by the applicant or landowner and the variance will not alter the essential character of the location, according to the Harlicker.

In recommending denial, Harlicker said there are other options than a variance to making reasonable use of the property, like a smaller sanctuary and parking lot that would not need a variance, there are no obvious unique circumstances to the property and the variance would preclude a buffer and screening of the parking lot.

But in the application letter to the board, Rev. Vasiliy Skorykh, church pastor, wrote that absent the variance, the church would not have reasonable use of the property because as a church “we expect to grow and as the property is, we do not have a reasonable capacity for growth.”

In addition, he wrote that the church proposal was not altering the character of the neighborhood, rather enhancing it.

No one from the neighborhood spoke at the board’s public hearing, Harlicker said.

Answer in Jesus Slavic Mission Church is currently located in Elk River.

Liberty Park Grocery, a 3,200 square-foot building, opened in 1966 and operated as a grocery story until a fire in 2012; it did not reopen after the building was renovated following the fire, according to Harlicker.