By Brian Babcock
Four years of deliberation and mediation between the St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church and Saratoga residents has brought hard feelings that may take time to forget.
The process needs to begin, said planning commissioners before unanimously approving the plan to build a new church on the Allendale Avenue property.
"The time has come for some movement forward and for some healing," said Susie Nagpal, planning commissioner.
About 70 people attended the planning commission meeting on June 25 in city council chambers. A handful of residents pleaded with the commission to deny development of the 3,994-square-foot church.
Saratoga resident Diane Drewke expressed her concern with the church's bell tower, which is 40 feet tall, 10 feet higher than city regulations allow. Although the church has promised that the bell is inoperative, Drewke said she has heard such "wordsmithing" before and wondered if there will be any repercussions if they don't follow the rules.
"Come on guys, we know (the city of Saratoga doesn't) enforce their codes, and they're not going to revoke a church's permit no matter what you say," Drewke said.
The residents who opposed the church construction expressed concern with losing their view of the mountains and said the church wasn't building enough parking spaces to accommodate all its parishioners. The new structure would allow for only 126 vehicles even though the church will have seating for 254 people.
The Rev. Slobodan Jovic said that during Christmas and Easter the church attracts about 400 parishioners throughout the day.
"Outside of these two events, we will never have that many people," he said. "I wish, but it will not happen."
Not all neighbors objected to the church's plan.
Sipos Laszlo, a Saratoga resident for 45 years, said he originally opposed the height of the proposed church but changed his mind after seeing the modifications the architects made.
"By viewing the new plans as they are, I have come to the conclusion that we should allow them to pursue their own happiness," Laszlo said. "Like everybody else, they own their property and have the right to build whatever they want to build."
The church was originally planned to have a roofline of 33 feet and a central dome built at a height of 52 feet. After speaking to neighbors, the church decided to lower the roofline to 26 feet and the dome to 50.
The new church will also have a roof and color scheme that will let the building fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, said Paul Bunton of BCA Architects, the firm that created the plans for the building.
All planning commissioners agreed that the church did what it could to respond to the community's concerns. They also agreed the church looks as if it will be a special addition to the city.
"I think this could become a tourist attraction," said Commissioner Rishi Kulmar.