Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 28, 2013

Church resolves fence dispute with neighbors

By Brian McGillivary
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — St. Joseph Catholic Church likely will make a mile-long trip this summer on the back of a trailer, after church leaders struck a deal with a neighbor to end a dispute over a cemetery fence.

The plan to relocate and expand the historic sanctuary next to the parish cemetery on Center Road near Island View Road still needs final zoning approval. But Peninsula Township officials, who approved a larger proposal in 2010 for a brand new church, expect it to pass easily after church officials removed the one remaining hindrance, a fence dispute with cemetery neighbors Bill and Monica Hoffman.

“The property issue was the only issue, and now that’s been resolved,” said Rob Manigold, township supervisor.

Monica Hoffman is Peninsula Township clerk. She declined comment for this story, but she and her husband submitted a letter of support for the project.

“We are very pleased to report that ... we have reached a mutually beneficial solution, and Bill and Monica Hoffman are in full support of the church’s plans,” said Dave Sanger, the parish’s business manager. “Everybody left happy and that’s all that matters.”

The church ran into problems when its project plans showed that a township-required, split-rail screening fence would have split 16 cemetery grave sites, including five that were occupied, as well as one unoccupied site that is owned by the Hoffman family, whose ancestors donated some of the cemetery land.

The Hoffmans, concerned about trespass that could affect their farming operation, declined to allow the church to put the fence along their property line. Church officials had sought a zoning variance to allow the fence on that line.

Sanger said church officials were surprised when the township’s zoning board of appeals didn’t seem to be concerned by the prospect of fence posts in grave sites. The ZBA tabled the request and encouraged the church to buy land from the Hoffmans to resolve the matter.

“We have acquired enough property from them that we will be able to meet the requirements of the special use permit,” Sanger said. “We no longer need a variance.”

Both sides agreed to keep deal terms private, Sanger said. He said use of the word “purchase” to describe the transaction would not be appropriate.

Township board members will consider giving the church sanctuary proposal their blessing in early April.

“We received approval from the Bishop last week, so we will be able to begin construction as soon as we have township approval and the snow is gone,” Sanger said.

The last mass in the old church is tentatively scheduled for June 16. It will then take contractors about six weeks to prepare the church for its move, which includes raising and placing it on wheels for its trip down Center Road to its new home.

The parish will add wings and a new vestibule to the church to increase seating capacity by about 50 people and eliminate steps that made attendance at mass difficult for some parishioners. New bathrooms and a parish center with offices, classrooms, and a social hall will round out the $2 million project.

Parish leaders hope to have the new church and additions ready in time to celebrate Christmas mass, Sanger said.