Church expansion tabled until restaurant tables sheds
The expansion plan of a church in Salisbury Township has been tabled because a nearby restaurant was serving tables in sheds on the church property.
The sheds, set up by Bolete restaurant, 1740 Seidersville Road, on the property of Cross Roads Baptist Church, 1860 E. Emmaus Ave., are a leftover from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 pandemic shutdown mandate.
The sheds, under an amendment to the Salisbury Township zoning ordinance, were allowed after Wolf’s statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The amendment to the township zoning ordinance, enacted Aug. 13, 2020, by township officials, states, in part: “In the event of an emergency declaration by the United States Federal Government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or the Township of Salisbury, temporary tents, structures and uses needed to adhere to regulations set by the emergency declaration, shall not be regulated by this chapter provided that such temporary tents, structures and uses, are removed and the property is restored to its original state within 30 days after the emergency declaration has been lifted.”
The Pennsylvania Senate and General Assembly voted June 10 to permanently end Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, which he enacted March 6, 2020. Wolf signed several declaration renewals, the most recent May 20. Wolf brought a formal end to the declaration June 15.
With the commonwealth emergency declaration lifted, the township emergency declaration was ended by a consensus vote at the July 8 board of commissioners’ meeting, thereby triggering the portion of the amendment to the ordinance requiring the sheds to be removed.
Responding to a July 19 email from a reporter for The Press, Salisbury Township Planning and Zoning Officer Kerry Rabold said Bolete has 30 days from July 8 to remove its sheds. Rabold said she contacted Bolete and Crossroads Baptist Church July 19 that “neither property is in violation at this time.” Rabold stated in the email to The Press, “They now have until Monday, Aug. 9 [to remove the sheds].”
Rabold said at the July 13 Salisbury Township Planning Commission meeting she told an owner of Bolete the sheds must be removed.
The Bolete website, under “COVID-19 Procedures,” states: “Due to our township’s emergency zoning measures being lifted, we will only be able to serve in our outdoor bungalow village through July 17.”
Bolete’s website states curbside-only pickup is July 21-24 and July 28-31. The restaurant will close in August for renovations to the kitchen and dining room and plans to reopen in September for indoor dining.
Approximately nine sheds in the “bungalow village” are on the church property on the southern berm of Seidersville Road at the Gauff’s Hill intersection of East Emmaus Avenue, East Susquehanna Street, Broadway and Seidersville Road. The church allowed the sheds to be placed on its property.
Approximately one dozen similar sheds are in the Bolete parking lot on the north side of Seidersville Road.
Each shed contains a table and chairs, which allowed socially-distancing dining during the pandemic.
Bolete is lauded in several categories by national media, including Gourmet, Zagat and the Food Network, as one of the top restaurants in the United States. People magazine listed Bolete as the most popular restaurant in Pennsylvania. Bolete was a semifinalist for outstanding restaurant in 2019 and 2015 in the James Beard Foundation Awards.
The sheds on the church property held up approval of Cross Roads Church to construct a 2,023-square-foot addition to its sanctuary and raze three existing accessory structures. The 2.1 acre property is in the township C2, neighborhood commercial zoning district.
The church preliminary site plan for the land development was tabled by a 5-0 vote, with the absence of one planner and also one vacancy on the board, by the township planning commission at its July 13 meeting in the township municipal building meeting room. By separate votes of 5-0, the waivers and deferrals for the plan were approved. There were no objectors to the plan at the approximate one-hour portion of the meeting.
The church plan is expected to be up for consideration again on the agenda of the next township planning commission meeting, 7 p.m. Aug. 10, in the township municipal building, 2900 S. Pike Ave. The plan must also be presented for an up-or-down vote at a township board of commissioners meeting.
Cross Roads Church Pastor Gary Becker appeared to be surprised at the planners’ meeting when he was told the restaurant’s dining option would prevent the church expansion plan from moving forward.
Accompanying Becker at the planners’ meeting were Robert E. Hoppes Jr., Hoppes Professional Engineering & Surveying and Chuck Pukanecz, Center City Contracting.
Salisbury Township Engineering Consultant David J. Tettemer of Keystone Consulting Engineering, Inc., read from his review letter, which contained eight comments of mostly drafting items.
Tettemer said he had no engineering objections to waivers for combining the preliminary and final plan and depicting man-made features 100 feet from the site plan and deferrals for curbs and sidewalks and street trees.
Salisbury Township Police Department Director of Fire Services Dustin Grow requested fire lanes and fire equipment turnaround lanes at the building be required.
The church addition would include a stage and seating for 123. There is now seating for 90 in the sanctuary.
It was determined during discussion at the meeting there will be no need for an off-street loading area.
Rabold said she would discuss with Becker the number of church employees and the required number of parking spaces.
“Bolete has sheds, but now they must be removed. This plan [the church addition] does not get approved until this is done,” Rabold said.
“My intent was to bless our neighbors,” Becker said of allowing Bolete to place sheds on the church property.
“We have until October to approve the plan,” Tettemer noted of the church addition.
“It’s a fairly large issue that could affect your plans,” Tettemer said to Becker concerning the sheds.
“You better get those sheds off the property immediately,” Planning Commission Chairman Charles Beck said to Becker.
“Technically, we can’t approve your plan because your property is in violation,” Rabold said to Becker.
“It’s prudent for you to sit down with the restaurant owner,” Tettemer said to Becker.
“I have no intent of keeping the sheds,” Becker said.
“Unfortunately, they have the sheds on your property. It’s a multiple-use,” Tettemer said.