Marshall planners will not recommend approval of a rezoning request that would have allowed a church to buy the Bladerunners ice skating complex in the Thorn Hill Industrial Park.
Grace Community Church has been trying to relocate from Cranberry to a larger site for about 16 months and made a successful offer on the Bladerunners property earlier this summer, said Lead Pastor Matt Kaltenberger.
In order for a church to be an accepted use on that property, the zoning would have to be changed from "planned industrial park," to "highway commercial."
After listening to church representatives and youth hockey supporters who are unhappy about the sale, the planning commission unanimously decided to stick with the zoning designation the township agreed upon when it adopted its comprehensive plan in 2006. Ultimately, the decision would be up to township supervisors, if the church decided to pursue the matter further. The pastor gave no indication of doing so.
At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, planners acknowledged the sale of Bladerunners to Grace Community Church has caused a rift between the church and youth hockey supporters who want to see a rink stay on the property.
Mr. Kaltenberger apologized for that rift, explaining his church was looking for somewhere to relocate and merely made an offer on property that was for sale.
"I understand we've caused a frustration with the hockey community," Mr. Kaltenberger said. "From my heart to the hockey community I want to say I'm sorry. That was not our intention at all."
More than a dozen youth hockey players were in the audience, as were a similar number of adults, some of whom spoke on the importance of hockey to the community.
Grace Community Church began in 2001 and called Haine Middle School its home. After four years it had 250 members, and today about 1,500 people attend weekend services at its Mystic Pine Trail church, Mr. Kaltenberger said.
"We've just outgrown that facility," he said.
The owners of Kratsa Properties, which also owns rinks in Harmar and Bethel Park, put the Marshall property on the market about 15 months ago, said owner representative Pat Connelly.
The Bethel Park rink also is for sale, but there are no plans to sell the Harmar rink, he added.
Mr. Connelly said Kratsa has had no serious offers on the Marshall property beyond Grace Community Church. "We hoped to find an operator for the ice rink. Unfortunately we didn't," he said. He said Kratsa would keep the rink open while it is advertised for sale.
Audience members such as Kelly Molinari expressed a variety of concerns about the rezoning, including where the township will stand if the church grows too big for the Bladerunners site, leaves and a business that brings a lot of traffic to the area moves in.
While several people expressed the desire to keep an ice rink at the Bladerunners location, it was mentioned several times that the rink is allowed to operate on the site only because it existed before the township's zoning districts were created in the 2006 comprehensive plan.
Recreation facilities are not an allowed use in the planned industrial park district, but they are permitted in the highway commercial area.
Which leads back to the main reason the commission was considering the change. The only issue before the commission, township solicitor Tim Bish explained, was whether the property's zoning designation should be changed.
Nicole Zimsky, Marshall's planning director, told the commission the township didn't support the change because of the long-range implications.
"If this is rezoned, that's what it will remain," she said, pointing out the change would allow such uses as care homes, assisted living facilities, funeral homes and shopping centers.
"These are uses the township doesn't feel are supportive of the industrial park environment," she said.
Mr. Kaltenberger said the commission's decision was a disappointment, but that his church would continue its search for a new site.
Rachael Conway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-4799.