Norway Planning Board to suggest changes to exterior of proposed church

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NORWAY — The Planning Board took no action following a recent public hearing on a proposal to build a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall on Greenwood Road.

After a public hearing lasting more than an hour, board Chairman Dennis Gray told representatives from the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the board would draft a list of changes residents would like made to the exterior of the building to make it compatible with the town’s rural villages.

At a special town meeting in 2016, residents voted 385-164 to approve amendments to the town’s Site Plan Review Ordinance that would implement the Comprehensive Plan Policy for rural villages.

Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman said the amendments would allow signs, lighting and noise to be “kept to a more minimum standard versus other areas of town.”

The one-story hall would be built on a lot near Noble’s Corner, one of four rural villages in North Norway.

The hall would accommodate about 130 people, Brian Lawrence of Parsonsfield told the Planning Board on Oct. 27. It would “only be used for worship,” and would feature an auditorium, two small meeting rooms and two bathrooms, he said.

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses has a hall on Harrison Road in Norway, but Joseph Greenler, who spoke for the hall during Thursday’s public hearing, said it was too small for their congregation.

Throughout the public hearing last Thursday, residents were critical of the proposed building’s appearance and expressed concerns about the potential for traffic issues, light pollution and sinking property values.

A majority of the complaints addressed the look of the building. Some residents said it looked “too commercial” for Greenwood Road.

“Let me ask you this,” Greenler said. “Is there anywhere we could build this where it would be acceptable, or would it be a problem no matter where it is?”

“Well, in a perfect world, I don’t think I’d like you to build it there, but I’m not sure we could stop you from building it there,” Gray said. “I’d prefer it to look like something else, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t have to drive by it every day.”

Board member Mary Lou St. John added, “I think if you just put some siding on the front of the building so it looks like a house, it would appease a lot of people.”

Greenler said, “Specifics would help me in this matter.”

“I’m not sure if we’ll be able to make all of the changes you want, but it’d help to know,” he said.

Gray said he would send a letter to Greenler “indicating what the consensus is coming out of the public hearing” to “give some suggestions for you to give to the design folks.”

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