WATERVILLE — City Solicitor Bill Lee has ruled that no property rezoning is needed to turn a bowling alley on West River Road into a church.

City councilors were to have considered rezoning 155 River Road, the site of Sparetime Recreation, so that Centerpoint Community Church could buy the property and renovate the building into a sanctuary, offices to house about 40 staff, a teen center, youth center and cafe.

Lee wasn’t able to attend the Nov. 25 council meeting where the issue was discussed and had to review the contract zone documents before issuing an opinion.

The council twice postponed voting to rezone the property from commercial to residential after discussing the impact of rezoning the site to a non-taxable use. Councilors are concerned about adding another tax-exempt property when 29 percent of property in the city is already tax-exempt.

Lee said Monday that he concluded that no council vote is needed for use of the site by the church after reviewing the contract zone property restrictions.

“It states that certain commercial uses are allowed, as well as all uses allowed in the residential-B (RB) zone, and churches are permitted uses in the RB zone,” he said.

Centerpoint and its school, Temple Academy, are now at 60 West River Road. Senior pastor Craig Riportella said the church has outgrown its building and needs a larger space. The church plans to buy the bowling alley property from Andy Couture in January. Couture plans to lease the property to keep the bowling alley open until sometime in April.

Lee was a city councilor in 1987 when the council voted to change 155 West River Road to the contract zone to allow the bowling alley to be built there.

The zone change allowed certain types of commercial uses, such as bowling alleys and theaters, but several conditions were placed on the property, including buffer zones near property lines and the requirement that the bowling alley have a brick facade so as to be compatible with other buildings in the area.

“Having this property be contract zoned back then made sense, and having it continue as a contract zoned property continues to make sense,” Lee said.

Lee is recommending that the council vote to postpone indefinitely the rezoning issue at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday .

“That kills it — takes it off the table. It’s dead. There’s no reason to act,” Lee said.

City Planner Ann Beverage said Monday that the contract zone created in 1987 is in conflict with current city regulations for a contract zone, but the bowling alley property is grandfathered. The current regulations allow only uses allowed in the base zone, which is commercial-B.

“Currently, churches are not allowed in commercial zones, including commercial contract zones,” she said. “However, in this particular contract, written back in 1987, the city allowed all residential-B uses, which includes churches.”

Riportella said Monday that he and church officials are pleased rezoning isn’t necessary, but do not regret all the discussions church officials had with city officials about the city’s needs in light of the large number of tax-exempt property in Waterville.

“It’s been good, and we’re certainly happy and grateful that we’re able to move forward with our process,” Riportella said.

He said discussions with city leaders allowed church officials to better understand what the city needs, and the church plans to help the city.

Riportella, who is chaplain for the police and fire departments, said he has called a meeting of area church officials Wednesday to discuss ways to help. They already plan to buy cameras for the police department next year, he said.

Riportella said Centerpoint works with 20 nonprofit, nonreligious-based organizations in the community, including Youth Matter, South End Neighborhood Association and South End Teen Center.

“I think we can do more together than we can individually, so why not rally the troops?” he said of churches working together to help the city.

City Manager Michael Roy said many nonprofit organizations do help the city, although not to the level that their tax money would provide.

“Many of them do make a good faith effort to help out in many ways,” he said.

He said that Waterville, as a small city, has a “huge problem” because so much property is tax exempt.

He said Centerpoint provided food for food baskets at Thanksgiving, Sacred Heart Church operates a soup kitchen, Unitarian Universalist Church has an evening sandwich program and the Alfond Youth Center helps the community in various ways.

“So many examples,” Roy said. “Does it equal the lost tax revenue? No, it does not. Is it appreciated? Yes, it is.”

In other business Tuesday , councilors will hold a workshop at 6 p.m. to discuss capital improvement needs.

They also will consider using $2,500 of $29,000 left over from a Head of Falls project in 2004-05 to prepare a design plan and cost estimate to build an approximate 800-foot boardwalk along the Kennebec River just north of the Two-Cent Bridge. The city would apply for grants to pay for the actual boardwalk construction, according to Roy.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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