2018-03-02 / Community News

Board reviews Rock Church expansion plan

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Church leaders at the Rock Church of Greater Portland are working with the planning board on a proposal that would enlarge their Gorham Road church by constructing a new addition, expanding the parking lot and repurposing existing church space. (Courtesy image) Church leaders at the Rock Church of Greater Portland are working with the planning board on a proposal that would enlarge their Gorham Road church by constructing a new addition, expanding the parking lot and repurposing existing church space. (Courtesy image) The Rock Church of Greater Portland, a non-denominational Christian church, began worshipping in Scarborough in 1999 in a space on Route 1 before moving to share space with Royal Ridge Church of God at 6 Royal Ridge Road.

In 2002, the church moved to Braeburn Avenue in South Portland and in 2011 finally set up shop at 66 Gorham Road, where it has operated ever since.

In that time, the church has grown from a small group of worshippers to offering five services, including four on Sundays, to more than 1,000 people and has quickly run out of space.

On Feb. 20, the planning board reviewed an expansion plan that, would, according to a church “nearly triple our parking and seating capabilities without having to move locations or purchase more land.” The board is expected to vote on the finalized plan in April.

The new 13,000-square-foot space would include a 600-seat auditorium for church events, concerts, productions and other gatherings, a two-floor foyer with a café and information kiosk and be located between the existing church and Gorham Road. The existing auditorium would be transformed into a multi-use space for youth ministries, mid-week services and other community events.

This project is not the first time church leaders have been before the planning board. A parking expansion plan was approved by the planning board in 2014, but that extra parking proved not to be enough and vehicles were forced to park along Route 1 on Sundays for service, something planning board members hope the latest expansion plan would avoid. This latest plan is seeking a parking lot that could accommodate 269 vehicles.

An expanded parking lot would mean church-goers would no longer need to park on Gorham Road. The road has adequate shoulders to accommodate on-street parking, which is allowed, but Planning Director Jay Chace said that width will “be minimized moving forward” after improvements are done to that section of Gorham Road. In fact, Chace said much of the discussion planning staff has had with Rock Church officials since this proposal first came to light has to do with the multi-year Gorham Road improvement project that is underway and how this particular project will impact that effort.

“Our goal in all of this has been to create a balanced facility and balanced means the parking is the right size for the number of seats, is the right size for the amount of fellowship and transition areas and the right size for the number of classrooms,” said Rock Church pastor Eric Samuelson. “We would want in no way to create a facility that is too big for the parking lot or a parking lot that is took big for the facility.

Samuelson said the only time more parking would be needed is for special events or holidays when church attendance is greater. A number neighbors, including Scarborough Public Library, have agreed to allow church-goers to use their properties to park.

If needed parking arraignments, he said, could be made in the nearby Hannaford or town of Scarborough parking lots. Samuelson said those times when the parking lot is at its fullest, the church provides individuals to help people find spaces and navigate through the parking lot.

While the parking layout would change with the expanded church building, the property would still have two access points off Gorham Road (Route 114). Chace said the town’s site plan standards “typically seek to minimize the number of curb cuts on a particular lot” by limiting each property to just one. The property has two now and the church is proposing to keep both. Thomas Greer, of Walsh Engineering, said having the two accesses to the property lessens the queuing of vehicles looking to enter the site.

“From a traffic point of view there is less queuing on (Route) 114 with two entrances,” Greer said after adding the Maine Department of Transportation approved the plan’s traffic permit based on the two curb cuts.

The building, Greer said, would have gray metal siding with a satin, non-shiny finish and a large stone piece on the top of the front corner that faces Route 1. That stone piece, Greer said, sets the tone for the Rock Church.

Planning board member Roger Beeley was a fan of the look of the building.

“I like the architectural drawings of the church,” he said. “I think it really looks nice. It’s be a nice signature building right there.”

Planning board alternate Rachel Hendrickson asked Greer to bring in a sample of the metal siding so the board can get a feel of what it looks like and asked Samuelson if there was any intention of better merging the look of the new metal building with the existing wooden building.

“Is there any thought in the future of bringing them into some sort of harmony,” she asked.

Samuelson said he has no intention of doing anything to the existing building to match it to what the addition is proposed to look like.

He said most of the view passersby will have is of the new building, which Samuelson called a “significantly improved structure” when compared to the view motorists on Gorham Road have now: that of a large pyramid shape with no doors to the outside.

Planning board alternate Rick DuPerre said he liked the design of the building, but did have concerns with the stormwater management plan and lighting, which Greer said will be dimmed at night.

The stormwater plan was a concern shared by Nick McGee, who chaired the Feb. 20 planning board meeting in Corey Fellows’ absence.

“There is a lot of impervious surface there,” he said. “Continue to work with (Town Engineer) Angela (Blanchette) and town staff to make sure the storm water management plan is ready to roll and is in good shape. It will be very important to this project.”

Greer said if the process plays out as hoped and the plan gets final approval from the board in April, construction would begin by Tuesday, June 12. Samuelson said the church will remain in operation while the team from Wright-Ryan Construction builds the new addition. Since some of the parking lot will be used for construction storage and staging, Samuelson said parking will be moved accordingly.

Blanchette said that section of Gorham Road will be a busy one this summer. Unitil will be coming in July to do work and the Gorham Road improvement project work in that area will get underway.

“This is going to be a big construction zone for quite a bit of time, so there will need to be some coordination (between the town and the church),” she said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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