By SUE BOTOS
ROCKY RIVER – A local business owner hopes to receive the blessing of city officials to repurpose a historic church.
Attorney Mike Harvey, representing Tom Goecke, owner of Rocky River-based ShieldMark, brought a proposal before the city Planning Commission at its July 11 meeting which would convert the former Lighthouse Alliance Church on Eastlook Road to headquarters for the company.
Harvey had first presented the plan to City Council during its June 26 meeting, where a measure which would change the classification of the property at 19147 Eastlook to accommodate an office facility received the first of three required readings.
“This is a historic property. Instead of going to waste, the applicant will be putting it to good use,” Harvey stated, adding, “They’ve talked to the neighbors and everyone is on board.”
Harvey further explained to the Planning Commission that his clients would be seeking a “use variance” as opposed to rezoning of the property, now considered a “public facility.” Situated in a mixed-use portion of the city, which includes residential, business and retail properties, Harvey stated that a use variance would give more latitude to any future owner of the 120-year-old church and remain consistent with the city master plan.
After discussion with city officials, and a preliminary view of the plan, Harvey said a use variance was agreed upon as the best option.
Although the property is not officially designated as a historical landmark, Harvey said the outside of the church building would essentially remain the same. “The Goeckes thought it would be a great idea to put their administrative offices there and not tear down the building. It will look exactly like the church. It’s the goal as longtime Rocky River citizens to utilize the building.”
Harvey added that he and Goecke have spoken to neighbors about the plans and have “received good reviews.” The facility, now on Detroit Road, will house only office space for up to eight employees. No manufacturing of ShieldMark’s product, wear-resistant peel-and-stick tape, will take place there, and the building will not be open to the public.
Questioned by the commission, Goecke said he has purchased the property, optimistic that his proposal will be accepted. “We’re counting on the approval of the city,” he stated.
Commission member Charles Gustafson asked for the assurance that the historic integrity of the church be preserved. “The 1897 architecture is significant. I think that should be included in the final motion. There are not many structures in Rocky River as architecturally significant.”
Law Director Andy Beamer stated, “This is a unique proposition. I’m amazed at the conglomeration of zoning in the area.”
Harvey said the Rocky River Historical Society had sought the building for its headquarters, but did not have enough funds for purchase.
Founded by a Danish congregation as Immanuel Lutheran Church in 1897, the church’s congregation merged with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, now on Hilliard Road, in 1951. It has since served several different congregations.
Goecke told the commission that preliminary plans call for the removal of the church pews, and that about half of the 2,800-square-foot building is already office space.
Neighbor Mark Allen told the commission he has been maintaining the exterior of the property since the Lighthouse Alliance Church moved out about six months ago. He stated that he shares one of the church’s driveways, and the three congregations which have occupied the building in his 20 years residing on Eastlook have been fine. However, now that the building is empty, its parking lot is being used by nearby rental properties.
“The Wooster Road rentals use it to park, and they come flying down that driveway,” he said, adding that he has had some “confrontations” with individuals parking in the lot.
It was suggested by Allen that a fence be erected between his portion of the driveway and that of the proposed business. Commission member Tom Long added that a gate could be locked after hours.
The proposal was referred to the city Building and Zoning Appeals Commission.