An events center catering to weddings or other gatherings is proposed for the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property at 72 Pleasant St. in Waterville. A zoning change would be required before the church complex could become an events center. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Neighbors of the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property on Pleasant Street are raising concerns about a proposed events center there.

Some members of the city Planning Board want a commitment from the developer as to how late weddings or other events would be held.

But Jennifer Bergeron, who plans to buy the property with two other investors, said she does not have a crystal ball and could not predict what time weddings, musical events, comedy shows or other events would end.

“I don’t want to make that commitment,” Bergeron said at Monday night’s Planning Board meeting, “and if it’s a commitment that needs to be made, I’m willing to walk away.”

Bergeron wants to buy the church building, church office and rectory at the corner of Pleasant and Gilman streets. The event center would also be used for activities, such as craft fairs, birthday parties, baby showers, receptions, conferences and retirement celebrations.

Bergeron estimated the parking lot has between 100 and 110 spaces, and that number would allow for three people per space, or about 300 guests.

But Jeff Karter, whose home abuts the church property, said he and his husband have two children, ages 7 and 9, and he is concerned about hundreds of people leaving events late at night, including vehicle doors slamming and lights shining into their windows. Karter said his house has been in his family since 1957, and it is in a residential neighborhood.

Karter said he likes that Bergeron wants to preserve the historic church, but the neighborhood is quiet.

“I want you to be there; however, I think you should be closing at 9 p.m.,” Karter said.

Being unable to give the neighborhood a closing time is unacceptable, he told Bergeron.

“To come in and ask for something of this magnitude without being prepared, I don’t think is proper,” he said. “At this point, we need to have a timeline or I will fight this.”

Bergeron said a church is an event center and she owns a house across the street and had previously lived there for six years and never heard noise from funerals or weddings.

While Mayor Jay Coelho and others urged support for the event center plan, Pleasant Street resident Rien Finch agreed with Karter on the need for Bergeron to present more details about her expected hours of operation. Finch said he would fight the proposal without such assurances.

An events center catering to weddings or other gatherings is proposed for the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property at 72 Pleasant St. in Waterville. A zoning change would be required before the church complex could become an events center. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Bergeron said she is a supporter of Waterville and is invested in the neighborhood. She noted she and a business partner own the Lion’s Den restaurant downtown, and they also own Erica’s restaurant on College Avenue. Bergeron said she owns properties on Bartlett and Ash streets.

“I do love this town,” she said, “so my goal is to preserve that property so that the church remains in its beautiful state and, hopefully, we’ll get the rectory in an even more beautiful state, and the office building would remain an office building.”

Board member Uria Pelletier said the church is his favorite building in the city and he hates its not being used. He said he likes the idea of having an events center there.

“I think it’s a great use of this space,” said Pelletier, a contractor.

Board member Bruce White said “a few late night gatherings shouldn’t prevent approval,” and board member Tom DePre agreed it was a good use for the church.

“I really love the idea of preserving this historical structure,” DePre said.

The Planning Board was asked Monday to decide whether to recommend to the City Council that the zoning in the neighborhood be changed to allow for the events center. The board, however, voted 4-3 to postpone the request, or wait until its next meeting June 7 to decide.

City Planner Ann Beverage said she had sent notices of Monday’s meeting to abutters of 72 Pleasant St., the church’s address, but the parking lot to the rear of the church has a Middle Street address and she did not send notices to three neighbors abutting that street.

If the board had voted to approve the request Monday, those neighbors could contest the vote as improper, according to Beverage.

Chairwoman Samantha Burdick said the board was being asked to make a recommendation to the City Council about rezoning when the board did not have enough information about the capacity of the church, the exact number of parking spaces and what time the events center would close. She said the board needed to make an informed decision.

“I’m not comfortable just making a blind recommendation to the City Council without more information,” Burdick said.

Board member Hilary Koch said Pleasant Street is a residential neighborhood and people living there needed to know the board would get more information. It is the board’s responsibility to neighbors to do so, she said.

“I’m really kind of aghast with people saying, ‘Yes, let’s go for this,’ without considering their concerns,” Koch said.

Koch also said that when people consume alcohol at weddings or other functions, it is unrealistic to think groups will not spill out into the parking lot.

“I’m not sure that this sounds like an event place that the neighborhood is going to be really receptive to,” Koch said.

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