Photo by: Brenden Cowan
A recommendation to decline a local church’s expansion proposal, which would nearly double the size of its building, has been shot down by St. Catharines city council.
To say that New Hope Church has seen some growth over its lifespan would be an understatement. Over two decades, the church’s weekly Sunday attendance has increased from 250 to over 1,000 people. It has remained at its current location at 2360 First Street Louth since 2013.
The church has struggled to accommodate the needs of its growing congregation with the limited size of its facility, with many members having to meet outside the building in tents for worship. The church has to hold four services every Sunday, and kids in the tents have had to use snowsuits, blankets and patio heaters during junior youth meetings in the winter months.
The extension proposal would bring the building’s size from 1,216 square metres to 2,397 square metres, and seating capacity would rise from 400 to 1,000 seats.
On Apr. 3, city council voted 10-2 to amend the city’s plan to fit New Hope Church’s proposal. While most members of the council were willing to accommodate the Church’s needs and support their request, others were concerned that the proposal would not adhere to Ontario’s Greenbelt Plan and other policies involving planning.
Councillor Greg Miller opposed the proposal, believing that permitting the church to expand on the Greenbelt would be “hypocritical” because of the council’s pre-existing commitment to preventing housing construction on the Greenbelt.
“It’s difficult because those lands aren’t being farmed, maybe never will be farmed,” said Miller, as reported in The Standard. “But I think from a planning perspective, it’s hard to suggest that two wrongs — the first wrong being allowing this outside the urban boundary in the first place and now allowing the expansion — it still doesn’t make it right.”
But other councillors believed that because the land is unlikely to ever be farmed, declining the request would only create harm for the church and its neighbouring community.
Councillor Mark Stevens noted that the church owns the property in question and will never be used for crops as a result — meaning that denying the expansion in an attempt to protect farmland would be pointless.
Councillor Bill Phillips was concerned by the impact that denying the proposal would have on the community, saying that he would vote against the motion if the property were vacant, which is not the case. He stated that denying the proposal would limit the church’s growth and ultimately have a negative impact on families within the city.
The recommendation to deny the proposal was ultimately refused. The church will now need to obtain approval from the Niagara Region in order for council to officially greenlight the expansion.