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Published: Wednesday, 6/27/2007

Monclova church's expansion opposed

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Behind the picturesque fence, rear, Monclova Road Baptist Church hopes to build a new school and athletic complex adjacent to Sherry White's home and horse-breeding farm. Behind the picturesque fence, rear, Monclova Road Baptist Church hopes to build a new school and athletic complex adjacent to Sherry White's home and horse-breeding farm.
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Pastor Russ Merrin didn't shy from thinking big when he laid out the grand long-term vision for Monclova Road Baptist Church and its burgeoning school, but carrying out that master plan will take a lot of time and money.

Mr. Merrin acknowledges it may be decades before his church is ready to build everything that appears on the project drawings - from the 2,200-seat chapel to Monclova Christian Academy's new 800-student building with natatorium and track and football and baseball fields.

Right now, however, that plan is generating strong opposition among many of the church's would-be neighbors along and around Monclova Road in Monclova Township.

They have taken up a fight against the church's request for a zoning permit that ultimately would allow it to build everything on the project drawings.

Residents have submitted a petition with 400 signatures to the Lucas County Plan Commission expressing opposition to putting the new chapel, school, and athletic facilities on the 45-acre parcel at Monclova and Coder roads, which now is mostly a cornfield.

"We don't care if the church moves down here. It's just the whole complex," said Vicki Beroske, 61, whose house neighbors the proposed site and has gone door to door along with her husband, Larry, and another resident gathering petition signatures.

Pastor Russ Merrin's Monclova Road Baptist Church has expanded from 75 members to a current and growing 1,100. Pastor Russ Merrin's Monclova Road Baptist Church has expanded from 75 members to a current and growing 1,100.
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"We just think [Mr. Merrin] is asking for a little more than this neighborhood wants to bear."

The plan commission is to vote today on its recommendation for the permit request.

Mr. Merrin said the church has made a $1.6 million offer to the land's owners contingent on it obtaining permit approval.

One of the three owners, William Strayer, is on the township's zoning commission but has recused himself from voting on the matter.

As the county plan commission's vote is nonbinding, procedure calls for the township trustees to have the final say on the permit.

Mr. Merrin said his church and its school will need the new, larger campus because they are outgrowing their 13-acre campus at 7819 Monclova, a third of a mile west of the proposed site.

He said the church's membership has grown to more than 1,100 from the 75 or so who belonged when he became pastor in 1993.

The academy, which boasts a "Scripture-based curriculum," has grown nearly every year since its 1999 founding and last year enrolled 190 students in kindergarten through high school. Annual tuition at the high school is $4,400.

The church and school buildings have undergone several expansions in recent years and another is planned for late summer. But eventually they will need a lot more land and building space - though not all at once or right away, as some residents seem fearful of, Mr. Merrin said. "They see what we're trying to do as some big mega-complex, and it's not that at all," he said.

Mr. Merrin said all the buildings and fields in the drawings are what the church hopes it can build someday.

For the near future, however, the church is just looking to build the chapel, a project that could begin in three to five years at a cost of at least $4 million.

If and when the church proceeds with building the academy's new campus and athletic fields depends on enrollment growth and the church's financial position, he said.

"If our school continues to grow, then maybe someday we'll move the school down there," Mr. Merrin said.

Because of residents' concerns, the plan commission last month ordered the church to hold a neighborhood meeting.

Since that June 7 session, church officials have made nine revisions to the site plan to appease residents, such as moving the football field and a parking lot away from homes.

But nearby resident Mary Lou Miner, 75, called the adjustments "laughable" and said she is still concerned that the new campus will generate too much traffic on already-busy Monclova Road.

She also is worried about noise from the athletic fields.

"We moved out to the country for peace and quiet," she said.

Sherry White, 45, breeds German horses on her property and said their stable would neighbor the athletic fields.

Those types of horses are bred for show jumping and competitions and are very sensitive to commotion, she said. They must feel safe and secure to breed, and she is worried about what could happen if they were to live next door to noisy ball fields.

"We want everyone to know we are Christians and have nothing against the church," Mrs. White said. "However, we do not believe that their plans are suitable for this neighborhood."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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