WhAT Are THE
LDS ChurcH Site PLANS?
The Mormon Church presented their site plan on March7, 2019m 7:00 to 8:30 PM in Newton City Hall , responding to request of Newton residents.
Newton residents met with representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at City Hall on March 7. Most of the participating residents were abutters of the LDS Church property on Carlson Ave. The Church was represented by the attorney Frank Stearns from the law firm Holland and Knight, Kevin Rollins, president of the Boston Stake (a group of seven congregations) and by the Church project manager John Bessant.
The Newton Tab reported on the meeting and on some of residents concerns like storm-water management and traffic congestion (https://newton.wickedlocal.com/news/20190307/newton-neighbors-voice-concerns-about-church-plans ). Noticeably missing from the Tab article is the fact that before talking to the residents the Church held a meeting with the Newton's Design Review Team (DRT). The DRT includes the Chief Planner of the Newton Planning Department, Jennifer Caira, and several volunteers who review proposed designs and architecture. The DRT meetings are not public and do not reflect the opinion of the community. According to John Bessant, the Church and the Design Review Team agreed to the parking lot of 210 cars, while per Kevin Rollins the Church needs at most 160 cars to satisfy its religious needs. The minimum number of cars required by the city's Zoning Ordinance is 1 car per 3 seats in the house of worship (plus parking for the staff) which results in an estimate of about 110 cars for 300 seats and the staff.
According to Kevin Rollins, the Meeting House in Newton will serve the needs of two Mormon congregations, each having about 150 members. The Church does not host sports events, youth sports events, day school and does not rent out its space for commercial purposes; and they do not use bells to announce the start of a service.
The Church plans to have their services on Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for one congregation and then from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for another congregation. They also have a meeting on Wd or Tu, 7-8:30 p.m. The Meeting House building itself is designed to host two services for both congregations simultaneously in two independent rooms. According to Kevin Rollins, members attending each service need about 70-80 cars. Per Church's planned schedule, members of both congregations will use the parking simultaneously around 11 a.m on Sunday, when the first congregation is leaving while the second is arriving. That would result in about 160 cars entering and leaving Carlson Ave in about the same time. City Council Vice President David Kalis, the only councilor present at the meeting, asked whether the Church would consider moving the beginning of the second service to noon, thus creating a 1-hour gap between services and reducing the peak traffic and the need for the parking space in half. The Kevin Rollins's answer was a resounding "No".
The Church promised not only to abide by the zoning rule of 40 feet side and rear setbacks but to increase the setback width to 60 feet. That is probably good news for the abutters, whose sentiment, however, was to ask to keep more trees by expanding the setbacks further. The Church said that they do not expect any increase in level of noise or exhaust gases coming from 210 cars they plan on their property - abutters are skeptical about validity of this statement.
The Church expects at most 160 cars parked during Sunday service. However, the construction plan shows a parking lot for 210 cars. At the meeting on March 7 the Church tried to justify this number by their need to accommodate rare events like weddings that occur few times per year. While the need to provide a lot of parking space for weddings is understandable, big weddings are not a religious necessity and thus the request for additional parking space for 50 cars is not protected by the Dover Amendment and could be easily challenged by City of Newton.
John Bessant and Frank Stearns said that the 210 cars number is the result of the consensus reached between the Church and the Design Review Team at the meeting they have in November of 2018. The Team could have suggested to limit the parking lot to 160 cars the Church really needs; reducing parking lot size by 50 cars saves at least 100 mature trees. The Design Review Team could have ask the Mormon Church to create a time gap between two Sunday services that would result in maximum number of cars ever present at the parking lot to about 80. They did not.
The Church also plans to share their parking lot with UMass. It would mean cars coming and leaving the parking all the time and in larger numbers than the Church needs for its religious activities. It means more exhaust gases and more noise and bigger parking and less trees...
The Church construction is planned to start this summer and last for 310 days, including the interior work. They will start working at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m on weekends.
Inevitably we come to the conclusion that it is up to the residents of Newton to make sure that the "Garden City" government protects them.