Zoning restrictions in Canton stall church's purchase of The Club, ZBA expected to review use variance
Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 2:03 am

By ADAM ATKINSON

CANTON -- Plans of an evangelical group to purchase The Club building at 25 Court Street are likely to get a review by the village Zoning Board of Appeals before moving forward, if at all.

CFC Canton, affiliated with the Christian Fellowship Center network, seeks to purchase the building to use as a church facility for services and other church business.

The village planning board has decided to table any action on the group’s request for a site plan review given restrictions in the village zoning code preventing the CFC from operating as a church on the site.

At their meeting Wednesday, Oct. 10, planning board chairman Barry Walch directed Jaime Sinclair, the appointed pastor of the Canton group, to bring the matter to Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Murray.

Walch said Murray will review the code and, in lieu of the existing restrictions, probably refer the matter to the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

That board would then consider a use variance allowing a church at the property.

The building, site of several popular restaurants and bars over the years with names like The Glass Onion and The Elegant Frog, closed its doors as The Club in July and has been on the market for sale since.

The property is currently listed for $650,000 and the taxes are assessed at $15,455.94.

Built in 1880 as a gentlemen’s club complete with mahogany bar and bowling alley, the building is currently owned by Custmo Inc. and is assessed at $250,000. The half acre lot it sits on is assessed at $40,000.

To learn more about the lot, log on to www.slcmls.com and search for MLS# 38206.

The issue for CFC Canton is that the property is zoned as a C1 commercial lot, which allows a wide variety of retail businesses and other uses, but not churches.

“We can’t say yes,” Walch said to Sinclair, “Its not that we say no, its that we can’t say yes.”

Another issue said Walch at the planning board meeting, is that parking requirements under village code require churches field one parking space for every 8 congregants.

Those parking requirements will not be met on the lot in question.

During the meeting, Sinclair said the church plans to use municipal parking behind the building and space at 30 Court St. with the owner’s permission.

Planning board members emphasized that the lack of parking could be an issue which prevents site plan approval should the ZBA grant a variance and the matter comes back for planning board consideration.

“We would have to discover if you would be subject to the parking regulations of a C1 building since you would be in a C1 zone,” said board member Jessica Prody. “Or if you are subject to the parking regulations of churches more generally.”

Walch said there were no specific number of parking spaces required for C1 zoned lots.

Members of the public in attendance voiced concerns about the site’s lack of parking if the church were to operate there and when church activities would take place.

“So the building… we don’t have any concrete plans on how we will utilize it, but it will probably be utilized at various times throughout the week, but often for brief periods,” Sinclair said.

“My biggest issue honestly, is with my inability to understand what you are actually doing,” board member Charles Rouse said. “You just said to the person in the back of the room that you have no concrete plans for what you are going to do with the building. And when things come to us, and we’ve got their application, and we’ve got the picture with dimensions on it, we’ve got their numbers, we can refer to the part of the code that says ‘In the code it says you can have signs that are this size.’ This leads to decision making. Without more information we can’t make that same decision.”

“So what I would really ask of you before I’m going to talk further on this is something in writing that explains exactly what you are planning to do, as opposed to this note here on the application which says ‘fraternal/social/education/charitable “church.”’ I’m sort of like ‘What’s that?’ That’s where I stand,” said Rouse.

“From those of us who pay that third tax for the privilege of having a business on Main Street, the people that park out there for long periods of time, as I said before, they are paying a meter,” said Marilyn Mitner, a former village mayor speaking as a member of the public. “You are telling me that you are a not for profit; so for those of us that are paying the taxes to sustain the plowing, all of the needs of this village, you are having all those same privileges and not paying one red cent. And that really irritates me a lot.”

Mitner urged the CFC to “step up” and pay taxes.

“I don’t think the issue is what you are trying to do, it’s where you are trying to do it zoning-wise,” said planning board member Nicholas Kocher to Sinclair. “I don’t think anyone has a problem with you bringing this to Canton. The issue is with the location where you want it to happen.”

“If you were doing this in a zone that was zoned for churches, the process is much more streamlined,” Prody said.

After the meeting, Walch said if the Zoning Board of Appeals grants a use variance allowing the church to operate at 25 Court St., a public hearing on the variance would be held.

Following the hearing, CFC Canton would have to return to the planning board with a full site plan review for consideration.

The planning board would have 62 days to make a decision on the plan. If they approve it, or take no action during the 62-day-period, the church group can move ahead with their plan to obtain the building.

“Right now we are having gatherings at the Best Western and before that we were meeting at SUNY Canton,” said Sinclair following the meeting. “We are kind of bouncing around. It’s a tough season.”

The group had also rented space from the Seventh Day Adventist Church said the CFC website.

Sinclair’s father Rick is currently the senior pastor of the Christian Fellowship Center.

CFC was originally started at tent meetings led by Florida evangelist Lonnie Langston in Brier Hill in 1973, said the CFC website. The group, under the leadership of former pastor Tom Wells, built its main church in Madrid in 1978.

The organization has grown over the years to include congregations in Moira, Gouverneur, Richville and Potsdam.

In Madrid, the CFC now operates from the 45,000 square foot former Madrid School building it purchased in 2001, following the loss of a previous 20,000 square foot building in the community from a fire of unknown origin, said the website.

The school building and the accompanying 53-acre lot provides room for 500 parishioners, office space, classrooms and even a 9-hole public golf course.

The CFC provides a podcast subscription of many of its sermons on its website and a tuition-based school for youngsters.

According to the center’s website, to become a church member, one must complete an application, attend a class and then subscribe to several benchmarks including exhibiting evidence of living a Christian life as judged by the Eldership and practicing storehouse tithing, said the CFC website, cfconline.org.