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Libertyville church's expansion plans too much for area, neighbors say
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/13/2009 12:03 AM

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A proposed church expansion in Libertyville has drawn criticism from nearby residents who say the project would do more harm than good in the neighborhood.

Residents on or near Maple Avenue just south of downtown said the First Presbyterian Church expansion would overwhelm the area and liken it to a volcanic eruption.

Church officials say they have been planning the expansion for six years and it will fit in.

Residents have sent a letter to Mayor Jeff Harger and trustees ahead of a Tuesday night village board meeting, where a review of the plan commission recommendation is on the agenda.

Though the church at 219 W. Maple Ave. has expanded twice since it was built in 1929, neighbors say this proposal, which includes demolition of a 109-year-old home at 212 W. Maple for parking, goes too far.

"Over a 50-year period, the First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville has torn down at least eight homes and probably more, to serve its own needs, as well as the needs of others, as may typically befit the role of a church in a community," according to information on a blog created to oppose the plan. "Now, however, the Maple/Brainerd/Jackson/Douglas/Stewart neighborhood that is not affiliated with the church, has had enough of this kind of tear-down activity."

More demolition will destroy the area's quaint residential character and lower property values, neighbors contend.

Major work includes replacing a wing of the building and social hall with a 33,800-square-foot facility to include 16 classrooms, 15 offices and other amenities.

John Jepsen, a church elder and chairman of the committee pursuing a phased expansion, said changes have been made since it was presented to the plan commission in December.

Several commissioners at that time expressed concern over the intrusion of an institutional use in a neighborhood and other factors, such as a lack of parking.

A revision eliminated a portion of the expansion, sparing a second house that also was to be demolished. The plan commission in March recommended approval.

Jepsen said the church has assembled a complete plan to be implemented as money is available, rather than proceeding piecemeal. "We own other properties and we have no intention of tearing down more properties in the neighborhood," Jepsen said.

Resident Todd McDermott said that's one fear.

"There's no reason to believe it will stop here," he said.

Jepsen said the church drew a master plan and tried to explain its needs for the benefit of neighbors.

"Now that we've put a plan in place, they're not really happy with that plan, either. We're kind of stuck in between," he said

According to neighbors, the home at 212 W. Maple was built in 1900 and owned by Lewis Hanby, a member of the village board and director of the Lake County Fair.

McDermott said the residents will present an alternative for parking that would spare the home in a meeting with church officials today.