August 7, 2008
Selectmen drop opposition to church
By STEPHEN BEALE
Selectmen have dropped their appeal of a zoning board ruling that would allow a local church to build in an industrial zone.
"My reaction is a happy one, of course," said Joe Johnsick, the founder and pastor of Goffstown Harvest Christian Church. "But not because in any way we're trying to win anything against the town. What causes us to have a positive reaction is that we are happy that we can go forward in serving the town and being a blessing to this community."
A month ago, the church and town seemed to be on a legal collision course, after a plan to move out of a nearby shopping plaza into a new building at the corner of St. Anselm Drive and Route 114 ran afoul of town goals for economic development.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment in early June granted two variances to Goffstown Harvest Christian Church: one excusing the steeple from conforming to the maximum building height set by the ordinance and another permitting a church to be in an industrial zone.
Selectmen voted at the end of the month to appeal that decision. The board had to act quickly to make a 30-day deadline for appeals, according to selectman Scott Gross. But after that vote, the board received a letter from the town attorney that prompted them to drop the appeal.
"He thought that our prevailing on an appeal would be very unlikely based on his review of the ZBA's minutes and the issues we raised," Gross said. "We decided that it would not have been beneficial to the town to proceed with an appeal."
Gross said the legal process would have cost thousands of dollars and wasted the time of the zoning board, which would have had to schedule a special meeting to vote on whether it would grant the selectmen's request for a rehearing on the variances.
Johnsick, who said he had prepared for a legal battle, was relieved. "My prayer was that God would not cause us to fight any battles that tomorrow we would have to heal."
The first phase of the project is a 479-seat sanctuary, estimated at $1.2 million to $1.5 million. At some point, Johnsick also wants to build an outdoor amphitheater for special services and events and a multipurpose building with a gym, youth room, and television studio on the five-acre property. Those would add $600,000 to the original cost.
Both the outdoor venue and the facility would be open to other town groups or organizations. "This is something very nice that the community could use," he said.
The church still has to go before the town Planning Board, which is scheduled to review the church plan at its Sept. 11 meeting.
"I'm not done with boards," Johnsick said. "At least we can go forward now."