ConCom Will Not Consider Sandwich Church’s Parking Lot Request
By: Mary Stanley
It took conservation commissioners less than 10 minutes on Wednesday night to unanimously agree not to pursue formal discussions with the First Church of Christ, which was interested in building a parking lot on conservation land behind it.
“I oppose this. The point of conservation land is to prevent endless parking lots. If we start giving up conservation land to benefit the town or private organizations, there’s nothing left,” Commissioner Neal F. Holmgren said.
“The original intent of conservation land is to prevent development. It is reasonable to put parking lots on conservation land, but this is disproportionate. There was not a compelling case made,” Commissioner Christopher M. Sellstone said.
“There is too much of a cost for not enough gain,” Commissioner David Sullivan agreed.
Commissioner Michael J. Zylich added that there were too many detriments to the proposal and the benefits did not outweigh those drawbacks.
Last month, officials from the church came before the commission to informally pitch an idea to put a parking lot on a half-acre of conservation land behind the church that would add another 29 spaces to accommodate parishioners.
According to the Reverend Anne Cubbage of the First Church of Christ, the church’s population is getting older and it is becoming difficult for those parishioners to find a parking place that is close enough to the building. She said the church’s population in general is also growing and, as a result, additional parking options at the public library, the Town Hall Annex and along Main Street and Water Street are all being used.
In exchange for the parking lot allowance, church officials said they would add a nature trail on the remaining land and a rain garden, which would filter any runoff from the paved lot.
Ms. Cubbage said the parking lot would benefit the town by providing additional parking options for those attending events at the town hall as well as the business community by providing additional parking for visitors and guests in the area.
But Chairman of the Commissioners Christopher J. Kirrane said the duty of the commissioners is to consider the benefits of the conservation property and not benefits to the town as a whole.
“Our job is to look at this from the benefit of conserving land,” Mr. Kirrane said.
He said although he was sympathetic to the needs of the church, he had “grave concerns about the precedent that it sets.”
Ms. Cubbage said she understood those concerns.
“We are disappointed with the decision but we understand precedent-setting and the importance of being good neighbors,” she said in a telephone interview yesterday morning.
She said the church will continue to pursue options that will enable its elderly parishioner to make it safely into the church each week.
Mr. Kirrane added that if the church could come up with some other creative solutions, the board would be willing to listen to those ideas.
“We are considering what those creative solutions might be,” Ms. Cubbage said. She said one option may be to use the parking lot at the Henry T. Wing School and to provide a shuttle service for its parishioners. But, she said, that option must be further explored.
While more than two dozen neighbors and abutters showed up at last month’s meeting to hear the church’s proposal and to offer up their own opinion of the deal, many in opposition, less than a half a dozen residents attended this week’s meeting to hear the commissioners’ opinion on the proposal.