Volpe hopes community can help Community Church

To the editor:

In the summer of 2019, after completing my term as mayor of the Village of Pelham, I began a discussion with Pastor Noel Vanek about the future of church building by the Community Church of the Pelhams. The almost 100-year-old building is in dire need of repair and upgrade. We jointly developed plans to refurbish and redevelop the existing building and to build a housing offering on the current parking lot. The original plan had a town community pool as part of the concept, along with ideas to offer senior housing and other market rate-rental units, a new sanctuary for the Community Church and a co-working space in the remainder of the hoped-to-be, newly refurbished existing building. The refurbishments alone are projected to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million. The entire development costs are estimated to exceed $10 million.

Our plans were refined, redeveloped and reworked during a process of costing the project out with interested investors and developers. Unfortunately, the pandemic delayed things a fair amount, but we kept at the effort. A few months ago, the revised plans were submitted to the Village of Pelham Board of Trustees by an LLC, Soran RE LLC to be precise, which was created by one person (me). The board of trustees referred the plan to its planning board, as the project would need new zoning to proceed. We followed the applicable law and never “surprised” the community as has been suggested. All notifications, procedures and regulations were followed.

Our partnership has been enjoyed by the Community Church leaders and myself, as we know how badly the church needs capital funds for the refurbishment and because we planned to give the community some things we felt it has sorely needed for years—affordable senior housing units and perhaps age-restricted housing for empty nesters near the train and downtown. That said, we anticipated there would be push back (there always is when development and change is proposed), but our goal of saving the church and its building was paramount in our thinking.

In response to the planning board referral and a hearing on the issue, some community members have objected and one group, the Pelham Children’s Center, may have what it believes to be a better idea. Rather than fight over what is or isn’t a better idea for the church and the community, Soran has decided to adjourn the next meeting in the process. We have worked on alternative plans with one less floor, less units and greater setbacks. This adjournment will give the Community Church a short period of time to vet this idea (and any others). To be clear, there have been no specifics from the Children’s Center and it has nothing pending before the village board.

My neighbors can be certain of the following.

First, the work behind this project was done with careful thought by Pastor Noel and his team and Soran. Let’s wish the pastor well in his retirement and hope for his continued support of our town.

Next, we truly believe saving the church building, creating the mentioned housing and other offerings with tax benefits to the community, are the right things to do. We applaud the other ideas; however, in my 30 years or so in Pelham, nothing has been done by anyone to address the identified concerns.

Finally, the social media inaccuracies, the opposition petition and the community conversation are encouraging and disappointing, all at once. While we have promoted a community debate on an identified potential problem and may present a better solution, the tenor and tone is sad at the same time. The sadness derives from the vitriolic, inaccurate statements about Community Church/Soran project fueled by misstatements of law and facts. The Community Church and I offered to meet with the Pelhamwood Association and any others with concerns to prevent some of this from happening. Our meeting offer was rebuffed without explanation.

Let’s hope that in the New Year the Community Church and the community can provide a solution to the church’s problem. If not, Soran may still be available to help. To paraphrase Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen in a recent social media post, let’s also hope 2023 brings a dialogue where we do not assume the worst in each other but rather, the best and community minded at that!

Michael Volpe

103 Boulevard