The Reverend Edward Noftz, pastor of Tamaqua's New Life Assembly of God, says that his church is growing.
To solve its crunch for space, the church, located at 4-7 Schuylkill Avenue, has expanded its parking lot and is in the process of obtaining the property at 209 East Elm Street for use as an office and meeting room.
The church had its proposal for a new office approved Monday night before the Tamaqua Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board.
The property the church is seeking to purchase is owned by Carl Eltringham and is the westernmost of four row homes that sit behind the church building. It is 1,260 square feet, and the church plans to use the upper floor for office space and the downstairs as a meeting room.
Currently, the church has two small offices to the rear of its sanctuary, which are used by Noftz and his wife.
The sale of the Elm Street property is contingent on receiving zoning approval, said Noftz, who attended the meeting with David Mace, the secretary of the church board.
The church is located in an R-3 residential zoning district, which required it to seek a special exception for the new office.
"Basically, we have a need for space," said Noftz. "We are a growing church, and we have maxed out our space."
"I think it's a good sign that a Tamaqua church has outgrown itself," said Andrew Kane, a member of the planning commission.
Planner Timothy Stahl asked if the church planned to expand its sanctuary and use the Elm Street property as a residence. Noftz said there are no plans to enlarge the sanctuary at this time, nor use Elm Street as a rectory. "We want to use the room as is," he added.
The planning commission voted 3-1 to approve the special exception, with Andrew Kane, Stahl and Philip Gerace in favor.
Chairman Tony Rodrigue voted against it, citing that Section 1630 of the new zoning ordinance, regarding special exceptions and places of worship, does not specify office space as an allowed use. "I have a problem with that," said Rodrigue.
Mark Conville abstained from the vote, as he arrived in the middle of the hearing, while Inez Larichiuta and David Kupchinsky were absent.
During the ensuing zoning board hearing, Noftz said the new office will not require any additional parking space. The church acquired the adjacent property at 411 Schuylkill Avenue and demolished it to install a stone parking lot. There is also on-street parking space available.
Zoner Clyde Robertshaw asked if the Elm Street property is handicapped accessible. Noftz said there are two steps to get into the property and a ramp in back of the property that leads to a window/door structure.
"We would obviously want to get anyone who is handicapped into the office," added Noftz.
Code Enforcement Officer James Barron said it could be a problem if someone was handicapped, couldn't get in and contacted an ADA-advocacy group. "A ramp would have to meet the right pitch," he related, noting there wouldn't be enough room in the front for a ramp.
Chairman Richard Clemson asked about the zoning ordinance stipulation about the property's use by a non-profit and whether the church would have to own the building.
Solicitor James Menconi clarified that the stipulation refers to use, not ownership. "The building could be leased as long as the religious group using it is a non-profit organization," said Menconi.
Clemson, Robertshaw and Frank Kane voted unanimously to approve the special exception. Zoners Christine Hartung and Karl Smulligan were absent.
The borough issued the following permits this month.
Paul Taylor, Orwigsburg Street, received a permit for side porch alterations. Nancy Butterworth, West Spruce Street, was issued a permit for rear porch alterations.
Charles Rex, E. Broad Street, was issued a permit to install a coal stove and chimney. Tara Schlorf, Penn Street, received a permit to install a pellet stove and chimney.
Mark Bower, Spruce Street, was issued a permit to construct a storage shed.
Charles Odorizzi received permits for off-street parking at 261 and 263 Clay Street.