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posted: 10/18/2012 4:04 PM

Itasca church plan 'off the table'

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A controversial proposal for a new church in Itasca has been withdrawn and, for now at least, there are serious questions about whether the plan is dead for good.

Hundreds of residents were set this week to speak against a proposal to build the Fourth Avenue Gospel Church at 601 Arlington Heights Road.

Opponents initially tried to air their concerns at a public hearing last month at village hall. But the crowd of roughly 400 grew so large the fire marshal declared a safety hazard because the meeting room's capacity is 267.

Officials were forced to reschedule the meeting for this week at the Holiday Inn Itasca, next to village hall. But the meeting wasn't needed because church officials pulled their application requesting several zoning variances.

"Given the amount of opposition, the petitioners are looking for a way to acquire more land to eliminate or substantially reduce the need for variations," said Bryan Mraz, an attorney representing the nondenominational church of about 165 people. "That would require renegotiation with the owner of the property. At this point, they are evaluating their options."

According to proposal documents, petitioners sought to build the church on a primarily vacant lot owned by the resident of an adjacent home who is willing to sell the land.

The church needed a special-use permit because the group wanted to build in a residential area, documents said. In addition, Itasca officials said the proposal required several variances because there wasn't enough parking under village ordinances and because the petitioners wanted to build a fence enclosing the entire church grounds.

Many residents wrote letters last month opposing the plan, but officials would not comment on the content of the letters.

A four-page document drafted by "concerned citizens" had circulated before last month's meeting suggesting the variances would change "the future look of Itasca." It detailed concerns about aesthetics, including gates and the absence of signs advertising services, at the church's primary location in Leyden Township, an unincorporated area near Melrose Park.

Now that the proposal is withdrawn, church members would have to reapply for a permit to build in Itasca.

"It's off the table," said Nicole Aranas, village director of community development. "They could come back, but they'd have to start over and refile. In addition, once you withdraw you get out of line. We have to continue with the other people waiting in line for house variances or small business variances."

Mraz said he was not authorized to say whether the church has permanently withdrawn interest to build in Itasca or if officials will file a new or amended petition.

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