The Hamilton Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) is set to hear a request from the St. Francis of Assisi church, representing the Roman Catholic Bishop of Helena, to build a larger church on its existing property at 411 South 5th Street in Hamilton. The church property is zoned Residential Single Family. The meeting will be conducted remotely via Zoom (go to www.cityofhamilton.net) on Monday, October 5 at 5:30 p.m.
The church reconstruction project as proposed will increase the building’s capacity, requiring more parking spaces. Due to increased parking requirements and proposed building designs, the church is also asking for three associated variances.
The proposal has been controversial and some residents in the area have lodged objections. As a result the ZBA has considered establishing a 3-hour limit for the whole meeting. The applicant would be limited to 15 minutes to make a presentation and the “neighbors” would be allowed 15 minutes to comment. Each “side” will also be given a chance to make a 10-minute summary after the entire public comment had been received. The board will vote to approve or deny the Conditional Use Permit. If it is approved, the three variance requests will be considered and voted on each in its own turn. Public comment will be accepted before every vote.
One variance request involves allowing the steeple to be built to a height of 54 feet 8 inches which is 9’ 8” above the allowed 45-foot building height limit. A second variance would allow for a rear yard setback of 2 feet to the rear of the property line rather than the 20-foot setback currently required. A third variance requests allowing 133 parking spaces (65 off-street and 68 on-street) to count towards the total parking spaces required, providing improvements be made to the curb, sidewalk, gutter and street where the majority of that parking will occur.
The City recently received a comment in opposition to the project from former District Court Judge and former Hamilton City Judge Jim Haynes who owns property in the area. For one thing, Haynes believes that the City needs to address the issue found in staff reports that the church has violated and continues to violate the terms of its 2005 Conditional Use Permit (CUP) allowing for the current building.
“These violations must be addressed and corrected before considering further incursions into the surrounding single family residential zoned neighborhood,” wrote Haynes. He also notes that approval of this CUP for this church will set a precedent that could be relied on as precedent by every type of church that wants to set up in a residential district. He said this would include churches recognized by the Courts such as Wiccan, Satanist, Racist (alleged Christian), and Peyote churches. He also claims the legally required fencing has been omitted from the plan.