By Melinda Baird, firstname.lastname@example.org
Main Street Church in Chelsea may have found its permanent home at the Chelsea Clocktower Complex. Chelsea City Council voted unanimously March 5 to approve the first reading of a proposed text amendment to the Chelsea Zoning Ordinance as it pertains to the mixed-use district. The amendment, if approved, would provide a new special use category to include churches and other buildings for religious worship.
“We love this space,” said Main Street Church Pastor and text amendment petitioner Josh Kuck. “As a church we’re a little different. We don’t want to look like a church. We want to connect with people who maybe wouldn’t initially walk into a church, and this old factory really fits.”
With permission from property owner McKinley Properties (who has a land use permit for community event space), Kuck has been regularly hosting Sunday morning services and various community events at the site since September 2017. If the amendment is approved, Kuck will be free to apply for a special use permit through the city, sign a lease with McKinley and make the whole endeavor official.
Chelsea Planning and Zoning Director Christine Linfield informed council that ten other zoning districts in the city provide for churches or other buildings for religious worship as permitted special uses. Allowing the same in the C-6 district (created in 2006 exclusively for the clocktower complex) would help draw people north of the railroad tracks and tie the entire downtown together. It would also contribute to the vibrancy of downtown—the purpose, after all, of a mixed-use district.
Linfield noted the site—significantly larger than a typical Main Street retail space and therefore trickier to lease–has been vacant since Chelsea Treehouse relocated in 2011.
Council member Jane Pacheco questioned whether the city would be sacrificing property tax revenue by permitting tax-exempt entities to occupy what was largely intended to be retail space. Linfield noted the many non-retail uses in the complex, such as doctor offices and a gym, while reiterating McKinley is the property owner, not the church.
Kuck emphasized that surrounding businesses within the complex are very welcoming of Main Street Church. Competition for parking spots isn’t an issue as the church’s primary use of space occurs on Sunday mornings, he said. Further, church-goers boost business in the area.
“We bring in 160 people from as far as 35 minutes away after just six months of opening. And most of these people want to stop and eat at a local restaurant before going home,” Tuck said.
City Council will hear and possibly take action on the second reading of the proposed text amendment March 19.