Church wins approval to build in Merrillville
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent June 26, 2013 10:44PM
Updated: July 30, 2013 8:10AM
MERRILLVILLE — First Baptist Church of Griffith on Wednesday received the Board of Zoning Appeals’ blessing to build a new church at 8930 Chase St.
The BZA granted the church special exception approval to construct a 30,000-square-foot building in phases on the 32-acre parcel, with the first phase starting in about three years.
James Fitzgerald of Dyer, head of the church’s property search committee, said he hopes all the phases will be completed within five years.
“We have to raise funds first,” Fitzgerald said.
He said the church has 350 members and has outgrown its location at 324 N. Colfax in Griffith.
Fitzgerald said there is no room for expansion at the current site and the building will be put up for sale.
Engineer Christian Badger of Lebanon said the building will include an athletic area, fellowship hall, classrooms, offices and the sanctuary.
Badger said the church plans to use the entire acreage, with the exception of an area it plans to donate to Lake County for parking for people using the adjacent bike trail.
Badger said he first started looking at the property in 2005, when plans were to build 72 homes there.
“The economy turned south and the project fell through,” Badger said.
BZA member Chuck Stojakovich asked if the Independence Hill Conservancy District is aware of the proposed project, saying a sanitary sewer could be expensive.
Badger said the conservancy district is aware and they have a plan that should keep the costs down.
Member Tim Fortier asked if they were concerned about having a jail and a youth detention center across the street from the church.
“We see it as a ministry opportunity,” Fitzgerald said.
Neighbor Richard Smith, who resides in the 3500 block of West 89th Street, approved of the church’s plans.
“I’m looking forward to them moving in. I’d rather have a church there than 72 homes,” Smith said.
In other matters, the BZA approved an electronic message sign requested by 73rd Avenue Church of Christ at 1055 W. 73rd Ave., with the stipulation that it be used only when it is light outside.
Also, Blanca Saenz received permission to open a restaurant serving Mexican cuisine at 7849 Taft St., Timothy Causey received approval to build a second garage at his 3-acre home site at 7491 Madison St., and Camille Schoop received approval to build a 16-foot by 20-foot shed on her 3-plus-acre property at 7260 Madison St.