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20110617-city-of-mission-bldgMISSION — It was standing room only Monday as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made a second attempt to get city council’s permission to build a church on the southwest corner of Bryan and Mile 2 Road. A petition for a conditional use permit (CUP) to build a church at that location failed to pass a city council vote last December when Councilwomen Norie Garza and Maria Elena Ramirez were the only two council members voting against the church’s request.

Since nine of the 12 neighbors living within 200 feet of the proposed site signed a petition opposing the church building, a four-fifths vote was required for the council to approve the CUP, instead of the usual three-fifths majority.

The property is owned by Assistant Police Chief Martin Garza, who has been trying to sell the property for over two years.

Although the site meets city guidelines for the location of a church, and has been approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission twice, the request to build a church at that location is heavily opposed by residents who prefer to keep the rural atmosphere of their neighborhood, which includes large lots. 

Bob Simpson, architect for the church, said every effort has been made to address the concerns of the neighbors through landscaping 30 percent of the property, triple the normal landscaping for similar projects, with limited outdoor lighting designed to not affect neighbors, and other accommodations to soften the impact of the church on the neighborhood. He said the proposed church would enhance the residential nature of the area and improve property values, rather than detract in the way a commercial development would. He also explained that the area is changing with the widening of Mile 2 Road and that the construction of a church at that intersection of well-traveled roads would be a more compatible and passive influence than any potential commercial use in the future. 

Carmen Solis, a member of the church who lives near the proposed site, spoke of the need for a building for the church in Mission to serve local residents. Currently, the denomination does not have a building in Mission and members of the church must drive to McAllen for services. She said the trip to McAllen was a hardship on the elderly people and single mothers who must be frugal on the amount of gasoline they use.

Maria Susana Reyna, a teacher who volunteers with the youth, said the absence of a building in Mission creates a hardship for youth in transportation to church activities and programs, including early morning seminary. The youth or their parents have to drive to the McAllen church for the classes at 6 a.m. each day before school, then get back to Mission in time for school, she said.

Speaking in opposition, Dr. Ivan Melendez, who owns a residence on a large parcel of land at the northwest corner of Bryan and Mile 2 Road, said he wanted to know what it was that made that particular site so unique that the church would insist upon locating there when the neighborhood did not want it. He said the residents wanted to preserve the nature of the area and that the size of the building and the parking lot were among their concerns.

Brice Chandler, a Mission resident and president of the McAllen Texas West Stake of the church said they had conducted an extensive search for a site in Mission and this was the only site that met all of the church’s criteria. He also said that after the conditional use permit (CUP) request was narrowly defeated in a 3-2 vote by the city council last December, the church searched for an alternate site, but could not find another parcel to meet their needs.

Several other neighboring residents spoke in opposition to the church being constructed in their neighborhood, including attorney George Powell, who disagreed with the church’s position that the city’s denial of a permit to construct a building at that site violated its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Powell said the church has other reasonable alternatives.

After going into executive session with City Attorney David Guerra to discuss the matter, the council voted 3-2 in favor of granting the CUP. Councilwomen Garza and Ramirez were the dissenting votes with the petition failing again under the four-fifths rule.

Other Business

In other action, discussion of an amendment to the garage sale permits for churches was passed with the understanding it would be brought back at the next meeting for additional study. 

The amendment states the church must be recognized as a non-profit institution. The request must be written on a church letterhead and sent by a church authority. No flea markets would be allowed where individual families were selling their own property for their own personal use, among other restrictions.

Several members of the council had objections to one or more of the regulations.  They passed the amendment so that El Mesias Methodist Church could have their planned garage sale permit, but said they would look at the matter again in the near future.

Consideration of the final action plan for the Community Development Block Grant 2011-12 allocation of $765,485 developed into heated words when Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas told the staff the council had given instructions that an additional $45,000 was to be added to the budget from city funds. The money is to be used to pay for allocations to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC) Area Agency on Aging ($10,000), Amigos Del Valle, ($15,000), Dentists Who Care, ($10,000) and Children’s Advocacy Center ($10,000). The budget includes $550,000 for housing rehabilitation and reconstruction, for a total budget of $595,000.

Police Chief Leo Longoria’s request to solicit quotes and award security services for the Speer Memorial Library for the summer was met with objection from the mayor. Salinas said instead of soliciting for security services, off-duty officers should be given the opportunity to make more money. 

Longoria said that most officers earned more money per hour than the people hired through security services.

“We need to find a way to keep local police officers happy even if it costs more money,” Salinas said.

The discussion ended with Longoria saying he would look into the cost of using off-duty officers instead of a security service.

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