Seen from Park Place, two buildings on Park Street that a local church hopes to raze to make way for more parking, with the First Church of Waterville steeple in the distance. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Controversial plans by a local church to demolish a pair of apartment buildings and expand its parking lot are at a standstill, now that the City Council has decided necessary rezoning approval can’t be considered as proposed.

The City Council on Tuesday voted against referring to the Planning Board a request that the city rezone properties at 3, 5 and 7 Park St. so the First Church of Waterville can move forward with the project, which has drawn opposition from neighbors. City officials recently brought neighbors and church officials together for a meeting to try to broker a compromise plan. 

Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, led the discussion Tuesday night, saying a proposal submitted by the church does not reflect the kind of compromise the council was looking for and she wants to see an alternative plan.

Councilors cited as a top concern the proposed demolition of the apartment buildings that comes even as housing is desperately needed in the city.

Councilor Brandon Gilley, D-Ward 1 — who followed the no votes of both Green and councilor Rien Finch, D-Ward 6 — said he was not going to vote to demolish anything.

“They’re essentially perfect buildings for people to live in and I am not going to vote to tear them down,” Gilley said.


Stephen Meidahl, the church’s senior minister, said forcing the church to keep the buildings creates an unwanted burden that would bankrupt the church.

“The concern is that we have three residents and some city councilors that appear to be functioning as an unelected planning board and what we’re asking for is to simply let the planning board do its work,” he said.

Last fall, the church bought the buildings at 3 and 5 Park St. and the parking lot at 7 Park, but the city zoning there does not allow for parking lots at 3 and 5 Park St.

The church wants to raze the buildings to more than double its 23-space parking lot, to 57 spaces. It also wants to build a fully accessible ramp at the rear of the church for people with mobility issues.

The council on Dec. 5 postponed voting on the referral request to give the church and its neighbors on Park Place, which runs perpendicular to Park Street, time to discuss the matter and reach a compromise.

On Jan. 8, both sides met with city officials to discuss possible solutions. City officials said after that meeting that documents would be drawn up for the Planning Board to consider when making a recommendation on rezoning that would reflect what each side wants. The board may hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the council, but the council has final authority on rezoning.


The 3 Park St. building is a duplex that is within 10 feet of the back wall of the church. The 5 Park St. building had three apartments, and the parking lot’s address is 7 Park St. All the fixtures were removed from the two buildings in preparation for razing them.

Neighbors on Park Place said at the Jan. 8 meeting that they don’t want traffic entering or exiting Park Place from an expanded parking lot, and they suggested the front half of the building at 5 Park be kept standing to help protect the historic and residential character of the neighborhood.

They oppose tearing down housing when the city is in a housing crisis, but seemed willing to support the idea of moving the duplex at 3 Park St. to another location.

Jeff Allen, right, an engineer with A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers, discusses a parking lot plan for the First Church of Waterville during a meeting Jan. 8 of church and city officials and church neighbors. Waterville City Manager Bryan Kaenrath is seated at left. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel file

Jeff Allen, an engineer for A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers, which represents the church, told the council Tuesday that he didn’t think a buffer wall along Park Place, which is a narrow street, would work.

“My problem is, if you have a snowstorm like tonight, where does the city put snow if you had a wall there?” he asked.

Green said she understood there was another proposal to be presented that would include saving some of the housing on the site. Allen said if someone wanted to move the duplex to another place, they were welcome to have it.


“It’s not the church’s business to become a landlord and there’s no incentive for us to do that,” Allen said, adding that the church’s intent is to demolish the buildings.

Park Place resident Raffael Scheck said the issue is not about just three neighbors — it is about larger interests, including housing. It is also about historical interest because the front of the building at 5 Park St. dates back to 1862, he said.

Mayor Mike Morris questioned whether Meidahl did not know or understand the zoning restrictions when the church purchased the buildings. Meidahl said the city three years ago rezoned property that always had been residential and turned it into commercial property in the church’s backyard. The church bought the properties in October last year.

The church previously was called First Baptist Church and the number of parishioners declined over recent years as members aged and many passed away. Meidahl has said that the congregation in the last three years has grown from eight parishioners to 200 on a typical Sunday.

The properties at 3, 5 and 7 Park St. are zoned as Contract Zoned District/Commercial-A and the church is requesting they be rezoned to Residential-D because the contract zone restricts use of the property.

The current zoning rules require that 5 Park St. shall be used only as a beauty salon and spa, professional offices or residences; 3 Park St. shall continue to be used as two residential apartments; and 7 Park St. shall continue to be used as a parking lot only.

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