A St. Michael-Albertville-based church is taking a second run at purchasing commercial property in an attempt to construct a new building along Albertville’s busy County Highway 19 corridor.
Westbridge Community Church, which has operated in the St. Michael and Albertville area for nearly a decade, now meets in the St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West auditorium. After working with the STMA School District for the better part of five years, Pastor Jeremiah Curran and church leaders recently worked with landowner and developer Mike Leuer, who owns piece of property along LaBeaux Avenue Northeast (County 19) north of 53rd Street Northeast to put a purchase agreement in place for 12 acres.
That was derailed, slightly, last spring when the Albertville City Council ruled against changing a zoning ordinance that doesn’t allow churches in commercially zoned areas. While Mayor Jillian Hendrickson and the council’s newest member, Walter Hudson, vocally supported the idea, members Larry Sorensen, John Vetsch and Rob Olson said giving a commercial property to a tax-free entity such as Westbridge Church was contrary to the city’s vision (comprehensive plan) and would be a hit on local taxpayers.
So, Curran and Westbridge are hoping to reach a compromise. In a new proposal, which is expected to be heard by Albertville City Council at its July 6 meeting, new plans for the Westbridge facility leave a 200-f0ot setback along County Highway 19, ample room, Curran said, for a commercial building to be constructed that would face the city’s busiest road.
“Leaving that 200-feet of depth allows commercial development to happen along what the city wants as a corridor for commercial development. We, in turn, would have the land for our building behind that building – whether it’s a strip mall or whatever,” Curran said. “We would be the landowner, so commercial construction on the land would be an investment for the church, and Westbridge would work with the city to control what goes into that development.”
Moving the church building to the western portion of the section of land abuts it against a residential development – and the city allows churches within residential areas (see Life in Christ Lutheran).
The city allows developers with a proposal that requires an ordinance change to resubmit plans under Ordinance 300 – providing there so-called “significant changes” to the plans the would cause the council to reconsider previous actions.
In a hearing last spring, the city’s planning commission voted to support the ordinance change, but the council chose to vote against that recommendation.
“Our hope is that it’s a win for all of us,” Curran said. “We really are trying to find a compromise and a solution that works for both our community and the city.”
The church has also formed a petition – located on iPetitions.com – in an attempt to show the city the support Westbridge has from members around the area. Curran hopes to use the number of signatures to show the impact the Westbridge community has on Albertville each Sunday, and the economic positives a new church could bring to the community, offsetting, they say, the loss of property tax dollars.
“Allowing the church to build a permanent facility brings substantial benefits to the City of Albertville,” the petition states. “Nearly 80 percent of [attendees] come from OUTSIDE the city of Albertville and increase economic activity substantially. Studies show that building a church not only reduces crime but causes property values to increase and attracts new families and businesses to the community!”
Curran said he still maintains the hope the two parties can reach a compromise, and will simply “go back to the drawing board” if an agreement can’t be reached on the property along County Highway 19.
“Our hope is to continue to be good neighbors and good partners with the schools and communities we serve here,” Curran said.