Jeff Allen, right, an engineer with A.E. Hodsdon Engineering Consultants, discusses a parking lot plan for the First Church of Waterville during a meeting Monday night of church and city officials and church neighbors. Waterville City Manager Bryan Kaenrath is seated at left. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The First Church of Waterville on Park Street and residents of nearby Park Place inched their way toward a compromise Monday night over a controversial request by the church to expand its parking lot.

The church wants to demolish two former apartment buildings on its property, more than double its 23-space parking lot and build a fully accessible entrance to the back of the church.

Neighbors say they do not want traffic entering and exiting Park Place from the expanded lot, and they want to see fencing and a vegetative buffer installed between the lot and their street.

They oppose razing a historic building facing Park Street and say the changes would negatively impact the residential and historic nature of the neighborhood. Some also oppose demolishing housing when the city is in a housing crisis.

Church officials are asking that the city rezone the property at 3 and 5 Park St., where the two buildings are located, because the current zone does not allow for parking.

City officials have asked both sides to try to reach a compromise before the City Council refers the rezoning request to the Planning Board for a public hearing and recommendation. The recommendation would be sent back to the council, which makes final decisions on zoning changes.


The city hosted a meeting Monday night at the City Hall Annex at 46 Front St., attended by about a dozen people, including neighbors; the church’s senior minister, Stephen Meidahl; City Manager Bryan Kaenrath; City Councilor Rien Finch, D-Ward 6; Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4; City Planner Ann Beverage; and Mayor Mike Morris.

Meidahl and Jeff Allen, an engineer with A.E. Hodsdon Engineering Consultants who represents the church, offered a sketch of what the church plans to do to expand its parking to 57 spaces and build the fully accessible entrance. Park Place residents Nancy Williams, Raffael Scheck and Robert Dombroski and his wife, Larkin Silverman, spelled out their ideas for a compromise.

They asked that vehicles not enter or exit the expanded lot from Park Place, and Williams suggested the duplex at 3 Park St. be moved to another location in the city and the apartment building at 5 Park St., which was a funeral home before being turned into apartments, not be totally demolished. Williams asked that the half of the building facing Park Street be left standing. The structure is from 1860 and historic, she said, and keeping at least the front would help protect the residential and historic nature of the neighborhood.

Meidahl said anyone who wants the buildings and will move them is welcome to do so.

Williams, an engineer and founder of the Waterville Community Land Trust who is knowledgeable about such projects, said the duplex measures 31 feet by 31 feet, and each unit is 900 square feet. She said it would be ideal if an appropriate lot could be found for the building and the city would issue a variance to allow the building to be placed on it.

“It would be wonderful for the community to figure it out,” Williams said.


She urged the church, the neighbors, organizations that help with housing and people with land work together on a plan to move the structure.

Kaenrath asked that both sides submit rough sketches to the city by Thursday or Friday morning showing what they want. That way, the City Council can view the sketches next Tuesday and consider what documents to send to the Planning Board.

The church was founded in 1818 and built in 1826 as First Baptist Church. In October 2023, the church bought the parking lot and the buildings at 3 and 5 Park St.

In 2020, the city rezoned 3, 5 and 7 Park St. from Residential-D to Contract Zoned District Commercial-A. The amended zoning says 5 Park St. may be used only as a beauty salon and spa, professional office or residences, 3 Park shall continue to be used as two residential apartments and 7 Park shall continue to be used as a parking lot.

The zoning was changed to allow a hairdressing and spa business to move to 3 and 5 Park St., and the conditions of the contract were intended to preserve the residential character of the abutting neighborhood. The business never moved there, however. Some neighbors during that time expressed concern about increased traffic on Park Place, and asked that entry to the parking lot be from Park Street, not Park Place.

The City Council voted Dec. 5, 2023, to postpone sending a request to the Planning Board to discuss and make a recommendation to the City Council on whether to rezone the property until church officials and residents of Park Place could discuss what each side wants and seek a compromise.

Meidahl said late last year that since he began as minister three years ago, the congregation has grown from eight parishioners to about 200 on a typical Sunday. While the church has a front entrance that is accessible to people with disabilities, officials want to build a covered ramp at the rear for those who are physically challenged so they do not have to traverse long distances to get inside. More parking is also needed, he said.

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