Lifebuilder Community Church, 637 E. Washington St., Greencastle, received approval Tuesday night from the Greencastle Board of Zoning Appeals for a special exception use variance to pump new life into the old Hopkins-Rector Funeral Home property.
Approved by unanimous vote, the use variance allows Lifebuilder to utilize the former Hopkins-Rector facility at 703 E. Washington St. for parking, offices, meeting rooms, children's church, teen programs, fellowship hall functions and other church-related activities.
Pastor Bobby Hopper told the BZA his church had reached an agreement to purchase the property from Keystone Indiana Inc., owners of the funeral home. The purchase was subject to financing and BZA approval.
Hopper told the board that the church, which has seen its congregation grow to 150 people and now requires a full Wednesday night service, has literally outgrown its present facilities.
Nonetheless, the sanctuary of the church will remain in the current Lifebuilder building, Hopper said.
Meanwhile, no changes are expected for the exterior of the old Hopkins-Rector facility. Any new signage will conform to the size currently displayed at the site, and no additional exterior lighting will be added, Hopper assured.
Ron Clearwaters, who resides across the street at 700 E. Washington St., questioned the vagueness of the petition, noting that his letter from City Hall listed only that Lifebuilder would be using the old funeral home for "church-related activities."
While assuring that he is not against church activities, Clearwaters said he was concerned that the variance seemed "a pretty open thing" and he would like to have seen those "church activities" spelled out in writing and included with the variance for future reference.
"In my opinion," City Planner Shannon Norman responded, "we're allowing the use, not specific activities."
Clearwaters then asked if the church desired to put a homeless shelter in the Hopkins-Rector building, would that be allowed?
"No," City Attorney Laurie Hardwick answered, "because that (a homeless shelter or group home) is specifically listed in the ordinance as not being a permitted use in a Traditional Neighborhood (TN zoning area)."
Another neighbor, Eric Birt, suggested there has been "some scuttlebutt in the neighborhood" about the possibility of a group home at the Hopkins-Rector site. "I would not be in favor of that," Birt offered.
He also was assured that no group home has been included in any of Lifebuilder's church plans.
The city attorney also noted that should the church sell the property or vacate the premises for six months, the use variance would be voided.
In approving the findings of fact that routinely accompany zoning action, the BZA officially noted that use of the location by the church "will likely generate less traffic than the funeral home formerly located on the property" and that the church use of the site "should have less impact on the neighborhood than the former funeral home."
The use variance request passed unanimously on a motion by John Phillips and affirmative votes by Paul Sanders and Jeff Sigworth. BZA members Donnie Watson and Kathy Ferrand were absent from Tuesday's monthly session at City Hall.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Greencastle BZA is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 5 at City Hall.