During their first meeting with residents Wednesday night, leaders from the Arlington Heights Orchard Evangelical Free Church were faced with complaints and questions about the church's plan to tear down eight homes and expand its parking lot.
Nearly 100 residents filled village hall Wednesday for what turned out to be an emotional meeting, but after two hours ended mostly at an impasse as the church will continue to move forward in submitting its plans to the village and residents still oppose any expansion of the parking lot.
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All of the anger is over a plan that has not been approved or even appeared before the village board yet.
Village Manager Bill Dixon said the church has submitted plans for preliminary staff review but has not yet filed an application to appear before the plan commission. The board would have to approve any home demolition and other parts of the project, Dixon said.
John Clarkson, chairman of the church board, said Orchard has been dealing with parking problems for 15 years and has already tried many other solutions such as shuttling attendees from farther away lots, opening new satellite locations in Barrington and Itasca and adding an additional church service.
About 1,350 people attend Sunday services at Orchard Evangelical each week, with about 200 members' cars parking on neighborhood streets. The current site has about 290 stalls, and the expansion would add about 230 more to alleviate that street parking, Clarkson said.
Neighbors, however, said the church has not tried hard enough to find other solutions.
"I'm just not satisfied that the only solution is to throw out families, tear down homes and put in concrete. That's not the only solution," resident Susan Klawitter said. "I don't get a sense that the church has taken seriously the alternatives besides this parking lot."
The church has terminated leases with tenants of eight church-owned homes on Haddow Street to make way for the project. Most of the residents moved by the May 31 deadline, though one or two were granted extensions.
Neighboring residents took issue with the church's argument that there even is a parking problem, citing their observation that the lot is empty most of the week and sometimes not even filled on Sunday mornings.
Church officials said there have been many complaints to the police about attendees parking on the street, but one resident said he filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the Arlington Heights Police that showed only three complaints this year.
Other residents questioned how the church could justify going forward with a plan that the neighborhood is so vocally against. One even read Bible quotes about being good to one's neighbors.
"We obviously disagree that there is a parking problem," Clarkson said. "The justification is that we have an ongoing issue with parking that's been going on for 15 years, and it's not getting any better."
The church holds two services on Sunday, but many residents suggested they should hold four or five, as area Catholic churches do to accommodate large numbers of attendees.
Church attorney Nick Peppers said they will compile the feedback from Wednesday and submit it to church leaders and the village as the plan moves forward.