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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Zoning Board denies variance request for St. Mary's

Church wants to lease convent as development facility for young men
by Emily Canning-Dean, Bedford Times Register


Bedford - Although St. Mary Catholic Church would like to lease its convent to a family development organization, it might not receive a zoning variance it needs to do so.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board of zoning appeals denied the church’s request to rezone the convent from residential R2 to R3, which would allow Claudia’s Family Development to operate an overnight care and development facility on the property. The facility would require R3 zoning because children would be staying at it overnight and because it would be an operation separate from the church.

The Rev. Thomas Winkle said the convent would be used by Claudia’s Family Development to host after-school programs and to provide overnight care for young men ages 12 to 17.

Building Commissioner Phil Seyboldt said St. Mary must show a hardship in order to warrant a zoning change. He said a definition of a hardship would mean that the church could not use, lease or sell the facility for permitted use under the current zoning.

“I think [Claudia’s Family Development] is a worthwhile organization,” said BZA member Lisa Kropf. “But we need to see that there is some kind of hardship for the church.”

Winkle said the convent has been vacant for a year and the church has talked to a few organizations about leasing it such as preschools and day care facilities, which would be permitted uses, but plans fell through.

BZA members said the diocese could sell the building, but Winkle said the diocese often tries to keep its property instead of selling it.

Seyboldt said the matter will go before Council at its next meeting Sept. 6, and Council can either uphold or overturn the BZA’s decision.

Norman Smith, spokesperson for Claudia’s Family Development, said he and representatives from St. Mary will probably appear before Council to request it overturns the decision.

Winkle said he wants residents to know that the church doesn’t plan to do anything that would hurt the neighborhood.

“The purpose of the facility is not to house juvenile delinquents,” Winkle said. “The respite care is provided for kids whose families are having problems and they need a break.”

Smith said boys receiving respite care at the facility would stay no longer than 14 days and would stay for two or three days on average.

Winkle said the maximum capacity for the convent is 30 people, but Smith said no more than 12 boys would stay in the convent at one time, and there would be an adult on premises for every three boys.

“The adults in our programs are either certified teachers or social workers,” Smith said.

During weekday afternoons from 3 to 6 p.m., Smith said the group hopes to host after-school programs for the boys, including tutoring, life skills and independent living.

“We also plan to do activities with some of these boys,” he said. “Some of these kids have no one to take them camping.”


Phone: 440-232-4055 ext. 4110


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