Church may move into industrial park
Commission debates impact on New London’s taxes
By Scott Bellile
A town of Hortonia church is eyeing New London’s Northeast Industrial Park for its new home, but zoning changes would be necessary to make it happen.
Faith Christian Church, located on the bend of State Highway 15 near Cross Road south of New London, will soon lose its building to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The church will be demolished for the State 15 bypass project scheduled to start in 2018.
Rev. Paul Franzmaier told the planning commission at a special meeting Thursday, May 12, the church is interested in buying the current Northland Electrical Services building in the industrial park off of U.S. Highway 45. Northland plans to vacate its facility and build a larger $1.5-2 million building across the street before Dec. 31, 2018.
Mayor Gary Henke informed the commission that while Northland’s expansion previously was not dependent on the sale of its current building, Northland is “changing the way their business functions, and they do need to sell the building” after all. He said he couldn’t elaborate at this time but emphasized Northland can’t begin expansion until the building sells.
“In order to help out Northland and in order to help the church out, I really would like to see us go ahead and do this,” Henke said. “It isn’t ideal zoning, but I think we can go ahead and do it.”
New London’s planning commission made the recommendation to the city council to change city zoning to allow for religious institutions and schools in a Manufacturing Zone area with a conditional use permit.
Zoning Administrator Paul Hanlon said Faith Christian is looking at being in the industrial park for at least 10 years.
Franzmaier said the church hadn’t considered the industrial park until a few weeks earlier when it learned Northland was for sale for “such a reasonable price.” He said he envisions Northland being a temporary home with the eventual goal of building a church near the current one on State 15, but the church wouldn’t rule out remaining at Northland permanently if it proved to be a good fit.
New London Utilities Manager Steve Thompson, who sits on the commission and was absent at the meeting, expressed disapproval toward the proposal. In a memo, he warned the commission the zoning change could make it difficult for the city to deny future requests from religious facilities to relocate to Manufacturing Zones.
“The City of New London developed the NENLBP (North East New London Business Park) to attract Large Commercial and Industrial tenants,” Thompson wrote. “It was not designed for locating Religious Facilities, which by the way are Tax Exempt. The taxpayers of New London set up a TIF district to create the NENLBP. Now that the TIF is closed, they are in position to see some tax benefit. It seems inappropriate to allow a Conditional Use that would remove the tax benefits going forward.”
Henke said to the commission that considering Northland’s new facility will be larger than the current one and will generate more property tax, he believes it’s still in the city’s best interest to change the zoning.
“If all of a sudden we had an influx of churches that wanted to show up out there, they’d each have to be handled on a case by case basis, right?” commission member Doug Noel asked. “We’re not just opening doors to say that the industrial park can now house churches?”
“It still has to be approved, but if you make the zoning and you allow one, you’re going to have a pretty big fight to not allow the next one,” Hanlon said.
Despite the concerns raised, the commission unanimously voted in favor of recommending the zoning change. The process for formal approval will take a couple months yet, Hanlon said, as the commission will need to schedule a public hearing.
Franzmaier said he sees the arrangement as one to help not just the church, but also Northland. He reiterated he hopes the industrial park would be a temporary location.
“We hope that we would be a blessing to the park out there,” Franzmaier said.
“Maybe that would help [sell lots to more future industry],” commission member Dona Gabert said. “A few prayers on Sunday can’t hurt.”