By Rachel Kytonen
New Hope Community Church will be able to house their office staff and hold a Saturday night church service in downtown Cambridge.
Following discussion at the Cambridge City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 17, the council approved an interim use permit for New Hope to allow a place of worship in the B-1 zoning district, site address, 145 2nd Ave. S.E.
With the approval, the council also amended its city code to remove a 200 feet setback requirement from alcohol establishments to a church. However, the council did motion to direct staff to explore if there are any other areas of the city’s business zoning districts to leave the 200 feet setback requirement in.
Conditions on the interim use permit for New Hope is as follows:
• The interim use for the place of worship shall discontinue four years from the date of approval.
• Only Saturday evening worship service. Other uses approved include office space, youth group meetings and other nightly community group meetings.
• The space shall be used according to the floor plan submitted by the applicant.
• The occupant load shall conform to all building code requirements.
• The interim use permit is void if construction of the proposed/project use is not substantially completed within 12 months from date of approval.
Bill Berg, lead pastor from New Hope, who was also at the Sept. 19 council meeting to address the issue, explained the building will be used to house office staff, youth meetings, community group meetings, and a Saturday evening church service. He explained the facility could hold around 80 to 100 people for its Saturday evening service.
Loren Davis, owner of the Cambridge Bar & Grill, spoke in favor of the change to the city code to remove the 200 feet setback.
“I would like to thank the council and staff for putting time in on this ordinance change,” Davis said. “I think this is a good thing for the downtown both business-wise and civic-wise. I believe any parking issues will work themselves out as time goes on.”
Ron Nelson, owner of Sidelines Sports Bar & Grill, explained in an email that he didn’t feel changing the city code would be a good idea.
“First, I believe the economic development committee already voted on this and decided putting a church next to three bars is not in the best interest of the community,” Nelson wrote. “This ordinance was put in place for the best interest of the residents of Cambridge. Some types of businesses do not belong as neighbors, and this is one. This is why the ordinance was drawn up to begin with.”
Nelson also wrote in his email that he felt if the situation was reversed, and an applicant was trying to establish a bar within the proximity of three churches, the council wouldn’t even consider changing its ordinance to allow it.
Council Member Dave Schornstein said his main concerns were with parking in downtown Cambridge.
Berg explained he is more than willing to encourage his parishioners to park in the public commuter lot, a few blocks from downtown.
“We are more than happy to work with individuals who are coming to church and tell them to park a distance away so we can accommodate the businesses who were here before us,” Berg said.
Mayor Marlys Palmer also had parking concerns, which Berg said he is aware of.
“We understand the sensitivity to parking and want to be aware of that,” Berg said. “We did meet with ECM about parking in their lot and also talked to Loren [Davis] about parking. With one car bringing around four people, we feel there will be around 20 to 25 cars attending the Saturday evening service.”
Council Member Lisa Iverson said she feels having a church by the bars could be a good thing for some of the people at the bars, and feels the church could be a good benefit for downtown.
Council Member Chris Caulk agreed with Iverson, and said it seems like a good use for downtown.
Berg explained New Hope Community Church is a community church, and mentioned the many positive things their members do for the community.
“When we talk about being a positive for the downtown we mean it, and I personally mean it,” Berg said. “We love this community and county, and in no way desire to hinder any businesses in the downtown area. We want to help highlight the downtown businesses.”
City Administrator Lynda Woulfe did reiterate to the council that by amending the city code to remove the 200 feet setback, it does not impact any residential neighborhoods and still will not allow any liquor establishments to locate in a residential neighborhood. She added setbacks regarding liquor establishments and schools is guided by state statute.
In other action the Council:
• Mayor Marlys Palmer declared Oct. 24-28 as Manufacturing Week in the city of Cambridge.
• Approved an amendment to city code regarding adult businesses to clarify language regarding the application and licensing process. It also amended the city fee schedule to include adult businesses; $5,000 annual fee and $2,000 non-refundable investigation fee. City Administrator Woulfe said the city has no applications or projects pending, but the city did receive an email inquiry, prompting the city to establish fees.