SANATOGA PA – Sanatoga’s Berean Bible Church would like to keep its gymnasium at 2675 E. High St. constantly ready for worship services while continuing to operate its youth recreation programs. To do both, church leaders indicate, their building needs more space – about 11,000 square feet of it – that they hope to add to the gym on a 12.33-acre parcel at the west side of Skytop Road.
Township officials anticipate church plans may come before the Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township Zoning Board of Appeals during its February (2011) meeting, because they require zoning variances for lighting and landscape buffering. The variances were unanimously endorsed by the township Planning Commission in a Nov. 15 (2010) vote.
With a congregation attendance of between 300 and 500 people for some services, particularly on religious holidays like Christmas and Easter, it takes a lot of manpower to set up and then remove seating and other items when the gym is used for worship, Administrative Pastor Bill Neitz told planners. That happens up to three times weekly, because the gym also doubles as the site of church recreation programs to which area children are bused.
Expanding the gym, Neitz explained, allows the church to be more efficient, reduce its workload, and keep kids occupied too. Adequate parking for 224 vehicles already exists, and no additional spaces would be needed, planners learned. Current lighting at the parking lot, however, doesn’t meet township standards for an R-3 residential district, in which the church is located.
Berean could install another five pole lights to satisfy the law, at a cost of about $5,000 each, according to its engineer, John McMenamin, but developer Wil Hallman, whose Sanatoga Ridge Community housing complex for senior citizens is built at the southwestern edge of the church property, said several of its residents object to increased lighting.
Adequate lighting, or the lack of it, caused some concern for township engineering representative Chad Camburn of Bursich Associates.
Neitz noted the church has not encountered a safety or security issue in its 30 years of operation. Camburn, however, said he was reluctant to recommend board endorsement of a variance to permit less lighting unless the church agrees to indemnify the township from potential litigation, as well as to install more lights under specific circumstances. McMenamin said Berean could consider both.
The church also will seek a waiver of the zoning requirement of a 15-foot landscape buffer. Township Assistant Manager Alyson Elliott said that, if approved by the zoning board, specifics of some kind of buffer between the church and nearby residences could be addressed by Berean representatives and township staff members.