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Metro Christian church parking lot issues aired

April 24, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

It was the second appearance before the Lehigh Community Planning Corporation (LACPP) that a representative from Quattrone & Associates of Fort Myers came to show members changes the Metro Christian Fellowship Church at 102 Leeland Heights Blvd. have made to meet some of the requests for changes in a variance request made at a meeting in March.

Pastor Ken Wright was also on hand to answer questions from board members who had several minor things on their mind for changes still to be made.

But the major discussion by the LACPP, the pastor and his consultant was how motorists could enter and exit the church grounds without getting involved in an accident when making a left-hand turn onto Leeland Heights Boulevard. Presently, the church has one entrance and exit at 102 Leeland Heights Blvd. It also now owns an adjacent home which the church is planning to add on an addition of a sanctuary for worship. The house is presently being used by the church to hand out food and clothing to the needy. Pastor Wright's plan, drawn up by his engineering consultant shows a front entrance and exit on Leeland Heights Boulevard. And it shows an exit only toward the back of the property onto Clayton Avenue.

Article Photos

Pastor Ken Wright outside Metro Christian Fellowship.

Members of the Lehigh Community Planning Corp., a group of Lehigh citizens who voluntarily serve on the 14-member board to review plans for future development, were unhappy with the entrance and exit being the same in the front, because of the difficulty of making a left-hand turn onto Leeland Heights Boulevard.

The discussion continued for an hour with most of the 40 members of the congregation attending.

Finally Pastor Wright said he could understand how the board felt and took a pen and put an arrow on the site plan which was presented to the board and marked an exit out from the church campus onto Clayton Avenue, and put an X on the exit to the front of the property. The rear proposed exit was already on the site plan.

Many in the congregation said they didn't fully understand what the final decision was, but the board agreed with the pastor and his consultant to prohibit worshippers from making an exit from the church on Leeland Heights Blvd.

LACPP member Frank LaRosa, told members of the congregation that he was happy anytime a church could expand in Lehigh and wished the group well. He insisted that the LACPP was only interested in making sure there were no accidents with traffic on Sunday or at special meetings when several vehicles may be exiting the property.

Pastor Wright said he has no problem with changing the exit from the front so worshippers can come in off of Leeland Heights and leave the property on Clayton Ave. That exit has not yet been built.

However, upon a visit to the property, The Citizen learned that worshippers, would have to turn left anyway on Clayton Ave. and go the stop sign and make a decision to either turn right or left. Making a turn to the left during heavy traffic times could be a difficult situation. But there are such exits from other properties along the highway and turning left can cause problems for some during heavy traffic volume.

However, Pastor Write noted that the hours that worshippers would be coming to church on Sunday mornings are hours that Leeland Heights is the least used. And he said he does not recall hearing of any accidents at the site in question anyway.

"But we want to be sure our worshippers and visitors are safe and we agree with the board to only use the other way to exit the church property," Wright said.

Much of the controversy at the meeting came up when Steve Conti, a member of the LACPP, and Edd Weiner, the board chairman, debated whether the LACPP should ask the county to build a traffic signal and that they should perhaps go to the county's department of transportation. Weiner called that "an impossible task," saying the church would have to go to the Department of Transportation and getting to the right people would be a lot of work for them. He didn't they would get anywhere anyway asking for a stop light on Clayton Ave.

The church has permission from the county to use the property seven days a week and LACPP members queried the pastor about the possibility of a daycare school or after hours school, which would bring more traffic to the site.

But Wright said the church hands out food and clothing and members of the community may attend church grounds on certain days when the churches are open, but there are no plans for future daycare centers or after school activities.

One person on the board, who lives on Clayton Ave., said he had problems with the exit plan because residents on his street may have problems getting out of Clayton Ave. on Sunday mornings or during other church activities. Clayton Ave. comes to a dead end and there is no way for residents to leave their homes except driving to Leeland Heights Blvd. and making either a left turn or a right turn.

One of the members of the congregation who introduced herself as Lucille Moffatt asked the LACPC "to give the church a break." She noted that church members have taken teenagers off the streets and have gotten them involved in positive activities. It was noted, too, that the church as a membership of about 40 or so people and it is growing.

"Make a way for us to work it out," Moffatt pleaded.

Finally, the board after much discussion agreed to a resolution to the hearing examiner to approve the variance to the property with plans for an only exit from the church property onto Clayton Ave.

"If we can get this right, this is a win-win situation for the church and for the community," LACPP member Frank LaRosa said.



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