Church sets its sights on Neenah

Proposed Mormon site makes residents uneasy

NEENAH — A new Mormon church wants to locate on the city’s south side on land that has been planned for single-family homes.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints intends to construct a 24,400-square-foot building on four acres immediately north of the intersection of Castle Oak Drive and Bishops Lane.

The Common Council on Wednesday considered a special-use permit needed for the church to locate in a residential area but referred it back to committee for more study after neighbors raised objections regarding traffic, noise and aesthetics.

“Our dream is being ruined here by this business being plopped into the middle of a residential area,” said Denise Elmer, 2500 Bishops Lane.

Ald. John Ahles suggested that the project be moved 300 feet east to another parcel that abuts S. Commercial Street.

That property, however, is not for sale to the church, according to Tim Wrase, the developer who owns the land.

Locating on the more heavily traveled S. Commercial also is not desired by the church.

“When we look for properties, we do like to nestle them in a residential area,” said Steve Christiansen, the church’s stake president.

Project manager Diane Hellmann-Sainterme said the one-story building, called the Neenah Stake Center, would cost about $3 million. She said the start of construction would be dependent upon the growth of the church and “probably is one or two years away.”

Christiansen said area members currently attend church at facilities in Appleton or Oshkosh.

The Neenah Stake Center would feature a worship area, classrooms, a stage and a cultural hall that can accommodate basketball and volleyball. The site would include an open-air pavilion for picnics and outdoor activities and a 280-stall parking lot.

Hellmann-Sainterme said the building is designed for use by three wards (congregations) with a maximum attendance of 395 people each. The wards would meet on Sundays on a staggered schedule.

“The building will never be expanded, so when it reaches full capacity, another building will be built in a neighboring community,” she said.

City Planner Chris Haese said the location chosen by the church isolates the residential land to the east along S. Commercial, making it unsuitable for single-family homes. He said the property would be marketable only for commercial or multifamily development.

“The conversion of this land from residential to commercial is not problematic” with proper city oversight, Haese said.

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