A Sewickley church won't know until early March whether it will be able to proceed with plans for the historic property known as the "Pink House."
The Presbyterian Church of Sewickley is seeking the zoning hearing board's permission to make exceptions to zoning code regulations on parking, driveway widths and property setbacks as part of the church's ongoing project to repurpose 202 Beaver St. into a youth education center.
Michael Parrish, attorney for the church, brought appeals before the zoning board at a public hearing Tuesday, seeking relief from the borough code.
Some of the plans call for shared parking with the church and for a 16-foot driveway, above the 12-feet required by code. The church is also seeking 48 parking spaces, above the required minimum of 43 spaces.
Representatives of the church said they met with neighbors multiple times to develop its plans to convert the building into the youth center. They said the plan now hinges on whether the church gets approval to deviate from the code.
"Almost all of the variances that we're asking for are the result of our choosing to renovate and repurpose the home," said Rich Weber, who serves on the church's governing board and is a member of the task force charged with overseeing the project.
Weber said the congregation is excited about their proposal and feel the changes will significantly improve the aesthetic of the streetscape.
Last year, church leaders purchased the three-story stucco house with the intent to demolish it and build a new education and youth fellowship center. Following a community outcry and the formation of the Save the Pink House group, the church voted to preserve the house.
Tim Merrill, a member of the governing body, said the zoning ordinance imposes distance and size-related hardships.
“To date, we have invested more than $100,000 in this project. And we are eager to move ahead,” Merrill told the zoning board.
But some who testified at the hearing expressed reservations.
Melissa Farlow, of Thorn Street, said she is largely concerned that parking, noise and lights in the evenings will change the character of her quiet neighborhood. She and her husband Randy Olson were married in their home and have lived there 30 years.
Both Olson and Farlow are photographers. Olson said when he and his wife return from their international work with National Geographic, their Thorn Street home is their sanctuary.
"The church next to us is a sanctuary for many people. For us it doesn't matter if it's a church or a small box store. It's going to seriously impact our quality of life," Olson said, calling it a "lapse in judgment" that the former zoning laws even allowed church plans to reach this point.
Peter Floyd, a representative of the Save the Pink House community group, said he supports repurposing the house, but doesn’t want to see parking encroach on the front yard.
Other concerns involved buffers, flooding and runoff onto Duquesne Way, but engineers said a proposed rain garden would help infiltrate water into the ground and carry it away by pipe.
If variances are denied, Weber said the church will have to go with "Plan B." The church has submitted a second application proposing to build a new, single-story youth center in place of the pink house.
The public has until end of business on Tuesday, Feb. 19 to submit briefs to Nancy Watts, borough code enforcement officer to include for the record. The board expects to render its decision at the March 5 meeting.
The church seeks relief from zoning requirements that include some of the following:
- The 5-foot setback requirement that an existing carriage house on the property violates;
- Parking in the front yard closer to Beaver Street than the front facade of the principal building;
- The entrance from Beaver Street is 16-feet wide, while the code sets a maximum width of 12 feet wide. The 12-foot restriction won’t allow cars entering and exiting the parking area to pass;
- A connecting driveway between the sanctuary lot and the fellowship house violates the prohibition against shared parking;
- There is an issue with the buffer yard at the rear of the property with the playground;
- The number of required parking spaces relative to the square footage of the property.