The pastor of is mobilizing his parishioners to attend upcoming zoning meetings on a proposed multfamily housing project near the church that he believes could be detrimental to St. Paul's and a church school.
So important does Fr. Robert Schlageter consider the development and its potential impact on St. Paul's, that he skipped the homily during masses last weekend to talk to parishioners instead about the issue. He also urged them to attend upcoming public meetings on the plans and to make their concerns known to town officials.
The church also met with local officials and the developer, The Metro Realty Group, in recent weeks to discuss the project. During one of those meetings, Schlageter told parishioners, he asked the developer to delay its plans for at least a month, but Metro Realty refused the request.
The developer also met with parishioners this weekend at the church following the masses.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will meet this Thursday to review the firm's proposal to renovate the former on Alling Street into an apartment complex for the elderly.
In his address to parishioners, Schlageter said the church is not only concerned with the traffic the project would generate, but with the loss of church parking. The church uses the former school site for parshioner parking.
Below is the address the pastor gave to parishioners last weekend instead of the usual homily:
Good Afternoon/Morning Everyone:
I need to speak to you briefly about the development across the street so there will be no homily this weekend. I promise we will not make it our practice to set aside reflecting on the Word of God at Mass; however, this is very important.
How often do you have a 9 building development going in across the street? The bulk of my time this week has been spent dealing with the development proposed for the Kensington Grammar School Property. Once the signs went up, people kept asking me questions. What do those signs mean? What is the development like? What are we going to do about it? The intensity of the concern and the volume of voices were almost overwhelming. One day I received 15 calls on the development.
Then someone said to me, “Fr. Robert, I live across town; however, I consider Alling Street my neighborhood and care about it as if it were my neighborhood. St. Paul is my Church and my husband and I were married here. My grandchildren go to St. Paul School and I stop by often to pray in Church when I am doing errands.”
After I heard those touching words, I understood why so many people are so concerned. I am a priest. I am not an architect or an engineer. I am not an urban or suburban planner. I know next to nothing about development projects, but I am learning fast.
The Town sought out these developers and they are proposing to renovate the Kensington Grammar School for senior, subsidized housing. I think there will be 25 senior units in the school. I have to admit that the idea of having a place for our senior citizens so close to church appeals to me. They could walk over to church and we could walk over to check on them.
The Town and Developers are also proposing eight three-story buildings on the land surrounding the Kensington Grammar School. These buildings will have one and two bedroom apartments. I think there will be 32 apartments in those buildings.
Like any neighbor of any development project, I immediately became concerned about …… parking, traffic congestion and I was, and still am, very concerned about how the increased traffic would affect the safety of our 1400 school and Religious Ed children who move in and out of St. Paul School each week (What a blessing!), and we all know they don’t look both ways and dart out between cars because they are late. I am also concerned about how this will affect our neighbors and their property values. I have consulted with the Pastoral Council and the Parking Committee. I have had several meetings with Attorney Dennis Kern, who has been a big help to us. We even had the developers over to the Friary for a meeting around the dining room table with the Parking Committee. I have to admit that it was a good meeting and I learned a lot about the project.
I have spoken to Mr. Salina, our Mayor, about our concerns, and shared with him some possible remedies proposed by the Parking Committee. I believe, without some adjustments to the plan and assurances from the town, this project could be detrimental to our parish, our school and the safety of our children.
You, The people of Berlin, will have to decide if you want this development here or not. Whatever the future holds, I feel that every single one of us should obtain as much information as possible. This is important. We must not jump to conclusions without knowing what we are talking about. You need to make an informed decision.
To help you make your decision about this project, I asked the developers to come to St. Paul’s. They are here right now. After each Mass this weekend, they will be downstairs in the Church Hall with the site plans and drawings ready to answer your questions. Please go down and look at the plans and ask your questions. Some members of the Pastoral Council and Parking Committee will also be there. The Family Life Committee is providing coffee and refreshments after the morning Masses.
There are two zoning hearings scheduled... one is on May 10, and one is on May 24. I hope that many of you will attend those meetings, learn more and make your informed opinions known to the Zoning Commission.
This is really important...
When we met with the developers, we asked if the whole rezoning process could be put back one month to give us time to learn about the project and get everyone to calm down. They did not feel they could agree to our request.
As a compromise, Mr. Geoffrey Sager, the developer, promised to ask the Zoning Board on May 10 that a decision not be made until after the May 24 meeting. I hope the town will respect both his and our request, so that you have time to formulate your opinion and we have time to confer with the Town and decide our course of action.
No matter where you stand on this project, I would ask you to speak charitably and calmly at the Zoning Meeting. Yelling at the people in Town Hall is not what Jesus would do and it is not what we should do. You have a right and an obligation to express your concerns and opinions; that’s what democracy is all about.
Don’t complain to the Town officials later if you didn’t tell them what you thought.
One last thing….
When we learned about the possibility of this project last fall, we immediately began working to find other places to park. For awhile, we have been in conversation with some of our neighbors about buying their property to expand our parking lot. As I said in the Annual Report, this will not be cheap. We are in the final stages of negotiating with one family whose back yard will yield 50 spaces. It will also give us the possibility of another exit to Grove Hill Street. The Parking Committee also likes the idea of angled parking on Grove Hill Street near our School.
These two projects will certainly replace some of the spaces we may loose from Kensington Grammar School, should the development go through. The Mayor told me and some Archdiocesan officials that he had checked with the planning people and that this would be approved by the Town. We are very grateful for his help in this matter.
We need to set up a meeting with the Town Planners to make sure they will allow us to go ahead. Without these new parking places, the Kensington Grammar School Development could be very detrimental to our Church, St. Paul School and our neighbors, because people would be forced to park all over the place. This would be very chaotic, when you think about Christmas and Easter.
We must: Listen, Learn, Pray, form our opinions and share them charitably; and we must make sure that we have adequate parking for our Church and those who will follow us.
Thank you for listening. God Bless St. Paul Church and God bless You.