House owners rescind church permit request

A house at 811 W Michigan Avenue in Urbana is owned by members of Christians on Campus. The owners withdrew their request to establish the home as both a residence and a church. Susan Kantor

A house at 811 W Michigan Avenue in Urbana is owned by members of Christians on Campus. The owners withdrew their request to establish the home as both a residence and a church. Susan Kantor

By Jim Shay

When the Urbana City Council convened Monday night, a certain plan case was absent from the agenda.

A little more than a week removed from a hearing in front of the Urbana Plan Commission, Ken Mooney rescinded his request for a special use permit aiming to establish the home at 811 W. Michigan Avenue as both a “single-family residence” and “a church or temple” under city zoning codes.

Mooney, a local agent hired by the home’s absentee owners, originally filed the request in hopes of allowing tenants Todd and Mandy Bennett to better accommodate meetings for members of Christians on Campus, a registered student organization at the University.

Residents in the surrounding area protested the seemingly non-stop flow of traffic in and out of the home’s driveway, which at times resembled a parking lot.

In the end, a staff recommendation for denial offered by Urbana Plan Commission board member Robert Myers, combined with the protests of disgruntled neighbors, made the effort futile and led Mooney to abandon the request early last week.

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“It didn’t seem winnable,” Mooney said. “It seemed best for all parties to not try to force an issue.”

What began as a quiet rumbling of discontent amongst neighbors quickly escalated to a more prominent issue.

In a statement read to the plan commission on June 5, neighbor Kent Ono testified that surrounding residents were left largely in the dark when it came to Christians on Campus functions at the Bennett’s home.

“This kind of economic transaction – the purchase of the house – and administrative act – the request for a special use permit – with no face-to-face discussion either before purchase or before or after institutional activities began, is precisely the unneighborly experience that happens as a result of creeping, unfeeling, institutional encroachment and transactions without humaneness.”

While the campus organization may have never intended to infringe on the block’s stability, members of Christians on Campus must now seek an alternative hub for the organization’s religious practice and outreach.

According to Mooney, the adjustment should not be a problem.

“We have a lot of other venues to meet with the students, not just the house,” Mooney said. “The house is a convenience because of its closeness to campus. We have a lot of other venues, including the student union building.”

For now, the group will maintain “limited use of the house, not zero use.”

Paul and Margaret Friesen, family friends of the Bennetts, are among those associated with Christians on Campus that are open to hosting displaced meetings at their home.

Friesen wished the “community was more embracing” of the organization’s presence on their street, but he did sympathize with the other parties involved.

“The neighbors made some valid points, and the Bennetts are willing to work with them to make the situation profitable for both sides,” Friesen said.

As far as the possibility of any lingering tension, Mooney claimed the neighbors did “overreact a little,” but he considers the issue “over with” and promised the home will “try to function in a way that (the neighbors) are comfortable with.

You could score some fouls on both sides. Let’s put it that way,” Mooney added.