My family and I live down the street from Vineyard Oak Park. We’ve lived on South Wesley’s 700 block for 18 years. Vineyard moved in nine years ago, when it bought the church at the corner of Wesley Avenue and Jackson Boulevard.

This spring, Vineyard petitioned the Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals for large-scale variances that would allow it to build a $3 million classroom/social center attached to its church building?#34;a 12,610-square-foot “addition” that’s larger than the church itself.

It would be built on the site of a nice bungalow at 707 Wesley Ave., filling most of a residential lot just 31 feet wide. The proposed three-level structure would dwarf surrounding homes, impacting neighbors on surrounding blocks in numerous ways, including ever-increasing street traffic and the noise from a large HVAC system that would likely be installed on the roof.

And contrary to information attributed to Senior Pastor Dave Frederick, (Wednesday Journal, May 24), this facility is designed to do more than serve “about 400 people [who] attend two Sunday services.”

At the first of three zoning hearings held so far, it was disclosed that the fast-growing Vineyard has designed a facility large enough to serve “close to 2,000 people.” This is spelled out in Vineyard’s own capital fundraising booklet given to members?#34;though it was the neighbors who supplied this to the zoning board, not the church.

In a section titled, “What if we run out of space again?” Vineyard leaders write, “By multiplying services, the new space can accommodate us until we have close to 2,000 people. That is pretty far away yet! At that point, we will probably have to look at other options?#34;expanding the seating capacity of our current facility is not something the village will allow, at least at this point. We do expect that we will need more space as we continue to grow for various ministries, offices, etc. That does not need to be part of this facility, although that would be preferable. It is possible that we could buy another house and expand that way, or have those spaces at another location.”

The booklet adds, “We will always be using street parking while we are at this location.”

I should point out that my neighbors and I tried repeatedly to get Pastor Frederick to tell us how large the congregation hoped to grow when it proposed this large facility, but we could not get an answer. During meetings he called with the neighbors in October and March, the pastor would only tell us, “We never want to put a sign out front that says, ‘We’re full.'”

This seemed evasive then. We were dismayed to find out how right we were.

At the first zoning hearing, when asked about the fundraising booklet, Pastor Frederick acknowledged the goal of growing his 10-year-old congregation into the thousands through this enlarged facility.

“Getting to 2,000 is a long-term process. That’s not going to happen in a year or two. The addition is intended to facilitate that,” he said. The pastor also said that “there’s no way to satisfy [our] needs with a smaller facility.”

To make the record clear, it is this over-reaching plan that upsets families who live near Vineyard. Picture it: A year ago, a small, attractive house that’s not on the market is bought after the owners get a generous, unsolicited offer from Vineyard. The church then uses the house as a meeting center and youth group site while it draws up designs for the property. Vineyard then seeks large variances to build a massive addition, proposing a facility that could handle a congregation of almost 2,000 people from the heart of our residential neighborhood.

All this and no off-street parking. It’s a ludicrous scenario.

Families on Wesley, Euclid, Clarence and Jackson have coped in a neighborly way with the impact of a congregation that’s grown five-fold, to date. Knowing that this project would ask far too much of us, Vineyard neighbors have turned in 55 letters in opposition and 17 more testified against it. Thankfully, the zoning board has offered a thorough and evenhanded process as it reviews the proposed project. The fourth and maybe last hearing was held on June 7.

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