Members of Ann Arbor’s New Life Church, which caters to University students, said they were disheartened after their request to build an auditorium for their expanding congregation was denied by Ann Arbor’s Planning Commission late Tuesday night.

In 1992, New Life purchased the former Delta Zeta sorority house located on Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street. They had hoped to build a 9,490 square foot auditorium on the site. The congregation currently meets in the Modern Languages Building.

One reason the church’s request was denied was because the auditorium was too big to fit in with the neighborhood, city officials said.

“I would have liked the proposal to have been accepted. I’m disappointed,” said RC junior Julia Mallete, who attends New Life and was present at the meeting.

The issue of granting the church permission to build on its property has been before the commission for several months, each time receiving approval from the planning commission staff, who make recommendations to the commission. However, the Planning Commission itself has consistently tabled a decision on the proposal until this week.

New Life needed a grant of special exception use, as well as a recommendation from the Commission to the Ann Arbor City Council advising them to approve the church’s request. Both motions failed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Approval of special exception use status is necessary when building structures do not conform to the normal building standards in a particular area. Structures seeking special exception use status must meet a variety of different standards, which are established by the city.

New Life’s proposal was rejected by the Planning Commission in a vote of 5 to 3.

Representatives from neighborhood groups in the areas surrounding the proposed building site were also present at the meeting and voiced their opposition to the plan. Neighbors said they appreciated the outcome of the meeting, but regretted having to interfere with the church’s plans to expand.

“It’s what the neighborhood was hoping for, but this wasn’t about the church outright, but about the proposal for the site. No one ever wins on an issue like this,” said Susan Contratto, a former co-chair of the North Burns Park Neighborhood Association.

Both members of the commission and neighborhood groups who opposed the building plan said they felt the auditorium would be too large for the lot and would not fit in with the neighborhood. Additionally, concerns were raised regarding the number of people the church would bring to the area during services, as well as a lack of available parking.

“Picture 550 people, even walking, coming in during a relatively short period of time — I’m picturing that however often there is an event at the church. I can’t see that as anything but a major impact on the area,” Planning Commission member Ethel Potts said.

Commissioners and neighbors also cited specific portions of the city’s General Standards for Special Exception use policy to support their argument that the building plan did not meet the required standards.

One of the most frequently cited sections reads that a building “will be consistent with the general character of the neighborhood considering population density, design, scale and bulk, and the intensity and character of activity.”

New Life had designed the architecture of the auditorium in a style similar to other buildings in the area, but those opposing the site plan said they still felt the building was just too big to fit in with the general character of the neighborhood.


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