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Article updated: 10/23/2013 5:24 AM

Church, Dist. 25 make parking deal, won't stop teardowns

By Melissa Silverberg

Orchard Evangelical Free Church and Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 have signed an agreement to share each other's parking lots, but the deal won't end the church's controversial plan to at some point tear down eight homes in the Hickory Meadows neighborhood and build a larger parking lot.

The District 25 school board approved the 10-year agreement last week, formalizing what officials said had already been an unwritten practice that for many years has opened another 200 or so parking spaces to each entity.

"We've had an informal relationship for years now," said Superintendent Sarah Jerome.

Under the agreement, Orchard Evangelical Free Church members will be allowed to park in the lots for Thomas Middle School, 1430 N. Belmont, and Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School, 303 E. Olive St., when those lots are not being used, such as during Sunday services from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The school lots also will be available to church members for overflow parking during the annual Christmas and Easter concerts and other church-related events when school is not in session.

The church parking lot will be available to parents, staff, guests and the public during the school week starting at 7 a.m., during school pickup time and for after-school programs or athletic events. The only time that the school district may not use the lot is on Sunday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

"The Orchard Evangelical Free Church has been investigating options to increase their parking capabilities, some of which have not been well received by the community," a school district staff report states.

The parking agreement with District 25 does not eliminate the church's parking problem or take the teardown plan off the table, said Clair Bechard, director of communications for Orchard.

John Clarkson, chairman of the church board, told community members in June that Orchard has been dealing with parking problems for 15 years and has tried many other solutions such as shuttling attendees from farther lots, opening new satellite locations in Barrington and Itasca, and adding an additional church service.

About 1,350 people attend Sunday services each week, with about 200 members parking on neighborhood streets. The current site has about 290 stalls, and the expansion would add about 230 more to reduce street parking, Clarkson said.

Officials from the church originally said they would submit plans by April, and families living in the church-owned homes on Haddow Street were forced to move out by the end of May.

A contentious community meeting was held in June, but by mid-October the church still had not submitted any applications to the village.

"Nothing has changed," Bechard said. "This is not new parking.

"We haven't moved forward with the other plan at this point, but we're still discussing it."

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