Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 07-11-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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20 WOONSOCKET JULY 11-17, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION Christian church has found a home of its own. On Monday, the Zoning Board of Review approved a use variance to allow the church to establish a per- manent location at 1500 Diamond Hill Road, a basement unit of Walnut Hill Plaza that was once home to a Mark Stevens outlet. The approval was the final hurdle for the church, which has signed a lease agreement with the plaza owner and plans to begin worshipping in the new space by the end of the year. The Rev. Tim Hatch, the church's lead pastor, told The Breeze the church has spent several months search- ing all over the city for a space that would suit their needs, but had dif- ficulty finding an owner that would rent to a place of worship. The new space, he said, will allow them to establish a permanent presence with room to grow their membership. "Really, we just want to establish long-term roots and tell the city that we're here to stay," he said. Part of what makes the arrange- ment ideal, according to William Coyle, a real estate expert called to testify by the church, is that the space is not suited for anything else. Though it was originally constructed as a retail space, the 10,000-square- foot unit is physically separated from the rest of the plaza, making it an unappetizing choice for potential commercial tenants. The space has remained stubbornly vacant for close to two decades as other tenants have come and gone on the plaza's main level, and the owners, according to Coyle, are eager to fill it with a non- traditional use. "This use is filling a gap that other- wise wouldn't," he told board mem- bers. In addition to filling the empty space, Coyle pointed out that the church, like other activity-based ten- ants in the plaza such as a gym and a trampoline park, could help drive traffic, creating a boon for commer- cial stores. The proposal drew a roomful of supporters to City Hall Monday night, including Mayor Lisa Baldelli- Hunt, who emphasized the church's outreach in the community and reit- erated the difficulty of drawing ten- ants to Walnut Hill Plaza, a struggle that has been ongoing for several administrations. "What this does from an economic standpoint for the city is it brings people to a space that has been dark for a very long time," she said. Waters Church, an offshoot of churches in North Attleboro and Norwood, Mass., first arrived in the city in 2017, offering services to an initial group of about 35 worship- pers in Hamlet Middle School. Since then, it's grown to about 100 people and established a footprint in the community, organizing trash cleanups and other outreach activi- ties at the middle schools. According to the Rev. Jim Shekleton, campus pastor, the church hopes to continue its outreach at the schools from the new location and will seek out other spaces where it can continue to host outdoor events. At least 30 members of the church waited anxiously in the audience to hear the Zoning Board's decision Monday night, many sporting shirts that read, "We love Woonsocket." With the exception of a few concerns about parking, which were laid to rest when attorney David Spinella told board members the building owner also owns the bowling alley building next door and will be able to use the lot for overflow parking, board members unanimously sup- ported the proposal. The decision drew cheers from church members who have waited a long time for a permanent home. "Our members are anxiously await- ing the opening of the new location," he said. The building, he said, is currently an "empty shell" and will require interior renovations to put up walls and create separate rooms for the church's main services and children's program. If all goes according to plan, the church hopes to move to the new space by Christmas. BREEZE PHOTO BY LAUREN CLEM Waters Church Lead Pastor TIM HATCH, Executive Pastor SHANE PARSONS and Woonsocket Campus Pastor JIM SHEKLETON were present at a Zoning Board of Review meeting last Monday night when the board voted to approve the church's move to a new location in Walnut Hill Plaza. The church plans to begin worshipping in the new location by the end of the year. CHURCH From Page One

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