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New Berlin neighbors fear traffic from proposed church

Aug. 2, 2011

New Berlin - For a new 1,000-seat church to be built at the site of a former school, it will require just short of everyone on the Common Council to agree with the plan.

A petition delivered by concerned neighbors this week will force a super-majority - in this case six votes out of seven - of council members to support a rezoning request to clear the way for construction of Weatherstone Church at 1500 S. West Lane.

While neighbors voiced several complaints Monday to the city's Plan Commission, traffic was on the top of their list.

Going to (and from) church

Currently, the church holds services in the former Calhoun School, attended by about 500 people spread out over two Sunday services. Neighbors are worried that the proposed church would overwhelm the neighborhood by pouring even more traffic onto peaceful West Lane.

Neighbor Gerard Vukovic said there were no major problems when the school was operating. The traffic would come and go quickly twice a day, and the rest of the time it was pretty peaceful, he said.

But the church has things going on all the time both during the day and into the night, he said.

"It's like a Walmart," he said. "We're just an appendage of Grand Central Station."

The church already has a preschool and day care and is thinking of expanding that in roughly three years.

It's just going to be too big, agreed neighbor Cathy Daeda.

"I'm opposed to the magnitude of what the church is going to be," she said, adding that traffic is already high.

"How would you like to sit on your porch and watch car after car after car?" Daeda asked the commission.

Exploring every avenue

While the commission favorably recommended the rezoning to the council, it tabled a vote on the proposed church building.

Commissioners wanted to be sure the church has done all it can to put its driveway on either Greenfield Avenue or Calhoun Road rather than emptying the parking lot onto a residential street.

"I don't think anyone on this commission would want to live on that street," with up to 1,000 people exiting, said commissioner Marta Brooge.

She challenged the commission and staff to think of another church that empties out onto neighborhood residential streets.

Fellow commissioner Jerome Wick said he wanted to be sure the church had explored every avenue.

"I have a feeling there are other ways to resolve the traffic," Wick said.

Praying for a solution

The church has already bought three homes to give it enough room to expand its parking lot. One solution to the traffic concerns might involve the acquisition of a fourth home to create a driveway onto Greenfield Avenue, said Tammi Simonson, New Berlin transportation specialist.

That would enable the driveway to be placed where the state Department of Transportation requires, Simonson said. But there is no way of knowing whether the owner wants to sell.

Another option is creating a driveway onto Calhoun Road. But there are obstacles there, too. A wetland is in the way and a state Department of Natural Resources permit would be needed to cross it, if that were even possible, and church officials would have to figure out how to get an easement to get full access, Simonson said.

The Plan Commission will take the matter up at its September meeting. The council vote has not been scheduled.

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