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posted: 6/1/2013 8:00 AM

Neighbors campaign against Arlington Hts. church expansion

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A community group has organized to fight Orchard Evangelical Free Church's plan to expand its parking lot -- a plan that the Arlington Heights village board has not yet seen, let alone approved.

Dozens of residents are expected to attend a neighborhood meeting planned by the church at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, at village hall, 33 S. Arlington Heights Road.

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Opponents have formed "Neighbors Count," the name a spinoff of the Arlington Heights motto "City of Good Neighbors," to oppose the plans, said resident Mark Fuller. The group has started a presence on Twitter and Facebook, and residents have been coming to village board meetings nearly weekly since March to speak against any plan that Orchard submits.

The church is evicting tenants of eight church-owned homes on Haddow Street to make way for the project. Those tenants knew eviction was likely when they signed their leases, said Claire Bechard, director of communications and congregational life for the church, which also has locations in Barrington and Itasca.

Most of the residents moved by the May 31 deadline, though one or two were granted extensions to stay until the school year ended.

Lynn Carroll, who lives near the church, said she is concerned about not just how a large parking lot would make the neighborhood look, but also that the vacant homes could attract squatters or be a haven for criminal activity.

"It will decrease my property value, no doubt," Carroll said. "No one in their right mind would buy a house behind a larger-than-life parking lot."

Village Manager Bill Dixon said Orchard Church has submitted plans for preliminary staff review but has not yet filed an application to appear before the plan commission. The village also would have to approve any home demolition, Dixon said.

Village President Tom Hayes has said he will recuse himself from discussions on the subject because he is a member of the church and had family living in one of the rented homes.

About 1,350 people attend Sunday services at Orchard Evangelical each week, with about 200 members' cars parking on neighborhood streets.

But Carroll said she and many residents would rather have the cars on the streets for a few hours every Sunday than have a large parking lot sitting empty most of the week.

"I understand they want to expand, but I don't think it's appropriate in a neighborhood in Arlington Heights," she said.

And Carroll doesn't see room for compromise.

"I hope (the plan) just goes away," she said. "If they were smart they would sell the houses back to the neighborhood and continue to grow elsewhere."

Fuller agreed "there is no compromise."

"I can't imagine any answers they give are going to be acceptable other than dropping the project," he said.

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