AUGUSTA — Over the objections of many neighbors, the Planning Board gave unanimous, but conditional, approval to a new home for Augusta Spiritualist Church on Townsend Road.

More than 50 residents, many from the neighborhood surrounding the Townsend Road site near High Ridge Drive and Windy and Glen streets, made for a raucous board meeting late Tuesday night. Residents expressed anger and their concern that the church will bring noise and traffic to the otherwise quiet residential neighborhood where, they said, most people’s lights are out by 9 p.m.

“Your lights are going to be right in my dining room and living room; lights are going to be an issue for us, as well as the noise,” said Roxanne Alley McGovern, of 18 High Ridge Drive, adding that she and her husband looked for a quiet home for their retirement. “I was told by both Realtors last year this was a residential, very quiet neighborhood. There are a lot of elderly on the street, and their grandchildren. I’m concerned about them, their safety.

“I’m retired. I don’t want a lot of people around. The church windows will be looking right in our houses,” she said.

McGovern said they never would have bought their home if they knew a church would move so close — no matter what its denomination.

Church officials said they must move because the current site of their church, a 100-year-old brick building at the corner of Perham and Court streets, is in the way of the proposed new Kennebec County courthouse.

Jim Coffin, of Coffin Engineering, who presented the church’s proposal to planners, sought to reassure residents that the church will be a good, quiet neighbor.

“A church, to me, doesn’t have an awful lot of noise associated with it,” Coffin said. “We’ll do whatever we need to do, as far as buffering, to make this work. We just want to have happy neighbors. It doesn’t look like that’s the case right now.”

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

If the proposal is approved, the church could be up and running by winter.

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.

Planners said a church is a permitted use at the site, so their job was to make sure the project fits into the neighborhood as well as possible, rather than reject the project.

“A church can go there,” said board member Linda Conti, who later made the motion to approve the project, with conditions. “The question is the way this one is designed, with the buffering, with the way the driveways are. Is this particular design compatible?”

The unanimous approval was made contingent on the church providing evidence — such as a letter from a bank or a letter from the courts indicating the sale of the former church is likely to go through — that the church has the financial capability to successfully complete the project. Church officials must also submit an updated erosion control plan and lighting plan, and agree to increase the amount of trees, shrubs and other buffers between the church and High Ridge Drive.

Glen Dumont, sales manager at Peachey Builders and a representative of the church on the project, said the church is still negotiating with the state court system for the sale of its current building. He said the state made an offer, but it wasn’t enough to cover the cost of building and moving into a new church.

One High Ridge Drive neighbor, Jean Goding, questioned whether church officials’ estimate the church has between 30 and 35 members is accurate or honest.

Church President Theresa Clifford has said 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 worries about parking availability and traffic entering and exiting from its proposed driveway off Townsend Road, which is just over a hill.

Wallace said in the last couple of decades, church membership hasn’t risen above 50. She said all churches are struggling to attract large memberships.

“Sunday morning services, we count how many we have every week,” Wallace said. “This past week we had 15 people. Other times we’ve had 30., and we’re glad when we have 30. We’d love to have 100, but if we did we’d get a different place.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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