AUGUSTA — A proposal to build a new Augusta Spiritualist Church on Townsend Road has prompted a spirited debate among its potential new neighbors.

The church is looking to move from the corner of Court and Perham streets to make way for a new Kennebec County courthouse.

Church leaders have struck a deal to buy a 1.3-acre parcel between Townsend Road and High Ridge Drive, roughly between a residential area and one end of the Marketplace at Augusta, where they hope to build a new church.

The proposal to build a church at the site goes to the Augusta Planning Board at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the lecture hall at Augusta City Center.

Theresa Clifford, president of the church, said the site could be a wonderful location for them, and said they “just have good feelings about it.”

The feelings of some of the church’s potential new neighbors? Not so good.

Jean Goding, whose abutting 24 High Ridge Drive home has a deck that would directly face the church, said the idea of building it on such a small piece of land in a quiet residential neighborhood is nonsense. The possibility has she and some of her neighbors aghast, Goding said.

She said church officials are understating how many people are likely to attend the church, and fears the comings and goings of church members and visitors will disrupt the peace and quiet of a neighborhood where, she said, most of the lights are out by 9 p.m.

In a letter to the city asking questions about the project, Goding said the church would essentially be in “the backyards of this quiet, dead-end, family oriented and predominantly older Catholic neighborhood.”

In an interview Friday, she said her objections to the church are about its location, not religion.

The National Spiritualist Association of Churches defines spiritualism on its website as “the science, philosophy, and religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the spirit world.” Members say it’s possible to communicate with spirits, often in group settings, with the aid of a spirit guide known as a medium.

“Even if it was my own denomination, I wouldn’t go there,” Goding said. “It’s about all the activity this would bring. It would be very disturbing.”

Clifford, who has seen Goding’s letter, said, “I think she has legitimate concerns, about what’s going to happen — I would too. But I don’t think she needs to be concerned. With the low profile we keep, I can’t see it affecting anybody. We’re only open Sundays and a couple evenings during the week.”

Clifford says the church has between 30 and 35 members. Plans filed with the city seeking a permit for the project indicate it would have 46 parking spaces, with a maximum of 50 people expected to attend its Sunday services.

Goding — referring to a previous newspaper article in which another church member said they had between 50 and 100 members — said if that many people show up for services, there won’t be room for them to park. She also worries about traffic entering and exiting from its proposed driveway off Townsend Road, which is just over a hill. She worries the entrance could eventually be moved from Townsend Road to High Ridge Drive.

The church proposal needs to undergo a minor development review by the board. The site is in a low-density residential district, in which churches are a permitted use, according to Glen Dumont, who completed the review application for the church.

Goding said she has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years and it has remained a nice place despite the nearby mall. She said many of her neighbors are also opposed to the proposal, including residents of nearby Windy and Glen streets.

At least one neighbor, John Rodrigue, of High Ridge Drive, said in a letter to the city that he had no problem with a church moving into the neighborhood. “I will welcome all who reside on the property as I have with any other neighbor,” he wrote. “We are all human beings no matter our faith.”

Clifford said the proposed 3,700 square-foot, L-shaped building would be built on a slab and have about the same amount of floor space the current church has, but all on one floor, so it will be accessible to people with disabilities.

Clifford said the church and state are still negotiating the potential sale of their church building near the courthouse.

If the new site can’t be used for a church, or the deal with the state falls through, the church’s agreement to buy the site for $60,000 from Merilda Bilodeau could be voided, according to the agreement filed with the city.

Clifford said if the proposal is approved, the church could be up and running by winter.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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