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Monday, September 23,2013

Kids in the Hall

Public hearing for church that wants to expand to the heart of REO Town

by Andy Balaskovitz

This story was updated on Sept. 24 to say that Riverview Church is a client of Ryan Wert.

Monday, Sept. 23 — Several dozen members from the Holt-based Riverview Church packed the Lansing City Council chambers tonight trying to convince the Council to let them expand to the center of REO Town.

The church, which one official said has expanded from about 200 members in 2001 to over 4,000, is looking to add a location at the former Cadillac Club, 1115 S. Washington Ave. in REO Town.

Three church officials and nine supporters spoke during a public hearing tonight to dispel the notion that such an entity doesn’t belong in the heart of a commercial corridor. The church, founded in 1977, is asking the Council to approve a special land use permit so it can operate there. The city’s planning staff and the citizen advisory planning board both recommended to deny the permit because the proposed use is not consistent with its surroundings.

Ryan Wert, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years and serves on the REO Town Commercial Association (which is supporting the church), believes the anticipated foot traffic would bring life to the otherwise dead corridor on weekends. Riverview Church is also a client of Wert's recording studio business.

“We have been completely unable to sustain businesses on the weekends,” Wert said. “In the 10 years I’ve lived in REO Town, I haven’t been able to get a meal on Sundays. Having that many people in the neighborhood on the weekend is a massive thing for the community.”

Riverview Pastor Noel Jesse Heikkinen said the church has a growing membership within the city of Lansing. Instead of continuing to expand in Holt, the church is looking for smaller sites. The former Cadillac Club is ideal, he said, because it comes with a “readymade” banquet hall and small auditorium for church services.

The church anticipates 100 to 150 members to use the church, but that number could grow. Heikkinen said the church also has plans to beautify the vacant lot adjacent to the building recently used for Art Attack! and offer up meeting space for local organizations and events. To date, the church has spent over $20,000 on planning for the site.

Council members Derrick Quinney and Jody Washington each spoke out tonight in support of approving the SLU. A second public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14, when it’s also expected a final vote will be cast.

Another of the arguments against the church is that it turns the property over to a tax-exempt organization.

“I am one who bluntly said we are up to our armpits with nonprofits,” Washington, who represents the 1st Ward which includes REO Town. “But I, too, have spent time on Washington Avenue, and the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a great fit.”

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