“One of the reasons we have so many people is there are a lot of people who are sinners that come into our church,” lead pastor Jim Owens told residents, who expressed their safety concerns over crowded parking by the Manhasset campus of Shelter Rock Church at a meeting Monday night.
“Clearly we have a lot of work to do,” Owens said at the Village of Plandome Heights Board of Trustees meeting.
The church, which is around 80 years old, has seen its fair share of parking issues due to having only four spots for 700 congregants. Owens said he asked for a public hearing on the situation to come up with a solution.
In the past, he has made signs and directed traffic to nearby municipal lots, he said. But soon that may be over since a new campus is opening next fall and congregants will start to shift to the new location in the spring.
Parking at the church “has been a difficult issue for residents for more than a decade” Mayor Kenneth Riscica said. “It’s been crystal clear while the residents want a solution for public safety reasons, for convenience reasons, for their own access to their own driveways, it’s difficult sometimes to get in and out. The residents have been unwilling to accept parking restrictions or parking signs.”
Owens expressed some frustration with heightened parking problems in the last few months, with parishioners parking in the no parking zone, on the sidewalk and having the police called to ticket them. He said services have been interrupted to ask police to wait while people move their cars.
“Because the church has been extraordinarily successful, the church is burdened by the fact that its congregation has grown by a lot,” said Riscica.
Owens said people come to the church to be encouraged, inspired and comforted, saying “it’s a big deal for them to get there…especially for people who are infirm.” He asked the village out of kindness to create a space for them to worship and find comfort without parking restrictions.
“It’s not a long time,” he said, pointing out the church has three services on Sunday at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon.
“It’s America. We’re creating a space for people to be able to worship…I think it’s significant that they not be impeded or hindered,” Owens said.
But residents on South Bourndale Road said they have not had that kindness returned and have even been cursed out by congregation members going to and from the church.
“I’ll be honest with you. As much as you want to say that they’re there to grow their faith and whatnot, when they come down that block and I’m standing there by my car, they’re not very nice to me,” said resident John Stark, “So I’m not so certain this is such a holy, you know, happy go lucky situation. It’s gotten to a point where they’re like, ‘Go, f— yourself’ and I’m like ‘I can’t get out of my driveway.’”
Stark said there had been lots of activity to curtail parking, but somewhere communication broke down and he wants to work together with the church to figure out the best situation.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody that was incapable of walking a long distance,” Stark told Owens. “In fact, I’ve seen people when I sort of mentioned it to them, they kind of run towards the church. So, it’s a bit sinister if you asked me that they’re not even looking at me as a community person.”
Resident Rosemary Mascali had specific concerns over public safety at the corner and brought pictures of trucks parking on the sidewalk and blocking the corner. She proposed a setback on South Bourndale Road of 40 or 50 feet be enacted but worries that may continue the problem down the road.
“After 15 years of this, I don’t buy lip service anymore,” said resident Eric Carlson, “I’ve kind of had enough, right, and I’m not for restricting parking because I also have elderly relatives who like to visit and they’re there during the week, and I’m all for exploring alternatives. But my advice to the board would be let’s look back and see if the church is actually in compliance with the approval that was given back in the day.”
Carlson recalled some type of quid pro quo granting “the additional square footage to the church at the time so that they would not park on village streets. That’s my recollections. And that was the trade,” he said. “We get all good lip service from time to time…then three to four months later its back to normal.”
Trustee Norman Taylor said he saw a cesspool truck have to back down on South Bourndale Road to Webster Avenue.
“There’s pinch points there,” Taylor said. “I really think the church has outgrown the area and the only good thing I’ve heard is that maybe you’re gonna get another location. And very shortly, it’s going to have an impact on our area by seeing a lot less vehicles because Webster is another big problem.”
Riscica closed the hearing and said they’d see what the next couple of months bring given that the church is in the process of splitting and moving the congregants.
“While I felt pressured into having this hearing, and I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea,” the mayor said, “it was a good idea. This was good. We aired a lot of things. I think we exposed some areas where we can do a better job of working together and working hard.”
He added, “And I think to everyone’s point about what the problem is, the village will pass whatever restrictions the residents want and the residents don’t want the restrictions.”