Baptist congregation proposes new Hanover church

by Gabriel Onate | 2/20/18 2:00am

Christ Redeemer Church, a Hanover-based Baptist congregation led by Pastor Don Willeman, recently introduced updated plans to the Hanover Planning Board over a proposed church that the congregation wishes to build on a plot of land it purchased in 2017. The plans for this new church were originally submitted to the board in 2016 and have since been updated to address residents’ and board members’ concerns about building a church in a residential area. Ultimately, the Hanover Zoning Board of Adjustment will have the final say.

Since the congregation’s founding in 2000, weekly Sunday sermons have been hosted at Hanover High School, Willeman said. However, he added, there has always been a desire and initiative in looking for a building in town that they could call their own.

The Valley News reported that the congregation numbers about 400, and that the proposed church would cost around $5 million.

Previously, CRC’s efforts to build a church were stymied in 2006 when the planning and zoning boards did not approve a proposal due to zoning laws, Willeman said. The lot was considered commercial and churches are preferred to be built in residential areas.

CRC also holds worship in New London and Quechee, Vermont; however, the New London congregation does not have its own church either. Instead, sermons are held at the Ivey Science Center at Colby-Sawyer College.

Judith Esmay, chair of the planning board, said the town is divided into different zones, which are classified for different purposes based on the town’s zoning ordinance, such as residential, business, office or rural.

She added that this lets owners living in different zones know what structures could be built on their respective properties.

“You can build something on the property only if the zoning ordinance allows it,” Esmay said. “It doesn’t tell you what you can’t do; it tells you what you can do, and you’re limited to that.”

Willeman said the congregation came across a property over a year ago that seemed like a suitable location to build a new church, but he still conducted research on the location and met with town members to discuss if they were fine with a church in that location. Eventually, he said, the congregation decided to go forth with their proposal and introduced it to the planning board.

The proposed church property is located on Greensboro Road and is zoned as a residential area. CRC then bought the land in June 2017.

Esmay said that building a church there is possible, but requires a special exception due to other codes.

The planning board held a meeting with the town in January 2017 to discuss the possibility of building a new church at the property, Willeman said.

Local residents expressed concern in that meeting over the size of the building, possible increase in traffic and the size of the proposed parking lot as well, which would have held about 100 cars.

Esmay said these concerns did not mean that local residents were against building a church or against practice of religion in town.

Willeman said he and the congregation took back their proposal in order to refine it in accordance with many of the town’s concerns, adding that the updated proposal’s most noticeable difference was the size of the church, which is now approximately 40 percent smaller in size from the original plan.

Another town hall meeting was held on Jan. 30, 2017 to discuss the updated proposal that was resubmitted to the planning board, but the same concerns kept coming up among residents who attended the meeting.

Esmay added that because of the geography of the property, building a large church with the parking lot could possibly worsen floods in the region, which already floods many residents’ basements during stormy seasons.

Despite this, Willeman said he and the congregation was listening to and taking the neighbors’ concerns into much considerations.

“We’re a part of the community,” he added. “We’re doing everything we can to be a good neighbor.”