Archive for Friday, February 7, 2003

Neighborhood succeeds in lowering church’s bell-tower plans

February 7, 2003


A bell tower will soar over a Catholic student center near Kansas University campus -- but not as high as church officials had hoped.

The Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously rejected Thursday a request by the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center to build its new bell tower 20 feet taller than city regulations allow.

Residents of the surrounding University Heights neighborhood had opposed the request.

"This request is not necessary for you to accomplish your mission and have a successful ministry," said Tim Herndon, chairman of the board.

Officials with St. Lawrence, 1631 Crescent Road, asked the board to let them build the tower to a height of 55 feet; city regulations cap the height of buildings in areas zoned for single-family residences at 35 feet. The church is in such an area.

"If you think about it, there's a lot of churches, a lot of denominations ... probably a majority have a bell tower or steeple that rises much higher than the sanctuary," said former Mayor Bob Schumm, part of St. Lawrence's building committee.

"They've peacefully coexisted (with their surrounding neighborhoods) over a period of time," he said. "This is a compatible use."

The taller tower, he said, would create acoustic benefits for the bells.

Residents of the surrounding neighborhood opposed the request, saying they didn't want the sound or site of any tower, much less one taller than regulations permit.

"It is an imposition into our single-family-zoned neighborhood," said Faye Watson, who lives a block down the street. "This is not a matter of religion. It's a matter of zoning, neighborhood integrity."

City staff members also recommended against the center's request, noting that its hilltop location "already provides a naturally high location for the tower."

"A variance from the height requirement ... could affect light, views and aesthetics of the neighborhood," staffers said in an unsigned report.

Supporters of the taller tower noted, however, that it would be close to even-taller residence halls on the Kansas University campus. And they said the tower would be at a spot on St. Lawrence property as far from the neighborhood as possible.

Board members said St. Lawrence officials never proved they needed the exception.

"I don't feel the applicant has provided us with a compelling need," member Mike Goans said. "I think the neighborhood has expressed concerns about their well-being adequately enough."

The church could appeal the board's action in court. Schumm said he "seriously doubts" the church would take that action.

"We don't want to needlessly antagonize the neighbors," he said. "We recognize that was the proper forum."

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