Plan Commission divided over proposal to convert former parish center, rectory into residential facility
Buildings that currently house the parish center and rectory at St. Mary’s Lake Church would be converted into a community-based residential facility and a single-family home under a proposal presented to the Town of Belgium Plan Commission last week.
Members of Divine Savior Parish, which owns the buildings, church, cemetery and former school at 6092 Lake Church Rd., presented the plan on Feb. 25 with Shawn Miles, owner of Individual Growth Services, which would operate the eight-resident CBRF.
“We’re looking at facilities we don’t use that much any more and are trying to find the best use for them,” Divine Savior Parish Council President Don Hamm said, noting the former school will be torn down by spring.
The company operates seven residential care facilities in Ozaukee County targeted for adults with developmental disabilities.
Other facilities operated by the company include the Norport and Oak Court group homes, Chestnut Adult Family Home and apartment and Milwaukee Street apartment, all in Port Washington, the Highland Adult Family Home in the Town of Port Washington and Royal Adult Family Care home and apartment in the Village of Belgium.
The parcels would be split into 1.5-acre lots with the parish continuing to operate the church and cemetery.
Hamm said the church is used for Easter and Christmas services, as well as for funerals and weddings.
Individual Growth Services was founded in 1992, Miles said.
He said he is a former member of St. Mary’s parish and is familiar with the property.
“The space lends itself well to the group of people we work with,” Miles said. “Most of the exits are ramped, but a lot of modifications will have to be made if we are going to use the space.”
The CBRF would include two bathrooms and likely be staffed by two full-time employees during the day and one at night, Miles said.
It would be subject to random inspections by the state Department of Health Services and the Division of Quality Assurance, he said.
Many residents are active during the day, Miles said, noting a van at each facility would transport residents around the area.
“Our objective is to keep the residents stimulated and get them out into the community,” he said.
The parcels would have to be re-zoned from park to residential, town Zoning Administrator and Plan Commission member Charlie Parks said.
Parks also wanted to give surrounding neighbors a chance to comment on the plans.
No neighbors attended the Plan Commission meeting.
“We have to look at how this is going to change this little hamlet,” Parks said, noting he supports the idea of a CBRF. “Folks moved in here with the expectation that the church area would be fairly stable.
“I would be a little upset about having this kind of transition.”
Other members liked the proposal, noting the parcels would be added to the town’s tax roll.
“We’ll finally be getting some money off it,” Plan Commission member John Paulus said.
Parks disagreed, saying it was important for the town not to consider the plan based on possible financial gain.
“We’re the only entity in the town that thinks about tomorrow,” he said. “This could change the character of this area substantially.”
Commission member Larry Bares said the church used to have services seven days a week and had hundreds of kids around when the school was in operation.
“There will be much less activity there than in the past,” he said.
Miles defended the plan, saying there have been no issues with any of the facilities his company operates.
“We’ve been through this process many times,” he said. “I invite you to visit our facilities and speak with the neighbors nearby.
“We have never had any problems or complaints.”
Commission member Dennis Dimmer, who supports the project, said the same concerns were raised when Gables on the Pond opened in Random Lake, but they have ceased.
“There was an uproar at first but now nobody has an issue,” he said.
The rectory is rented occasionally by outside groups, Hamm said, while the parish center is mainly vacant except for meetings on “rare occasions.”
One other potential hang-up in the plan, Parks said, was the town is not allowed to create a “substandard” property unless it is consolidating farmland.
“We can’t reduce the dimensions of a property,” he said, noting the Zoning Board of Appeals would have to approve a variance for the land. “It’s an unusual piece of land and it was meant to stay together.”
Approval of the plans failed on a 4-4 vote and will be further discussed at a public hearing before the next Plan Commission meeting Wednesday, March 25.