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Pinecrest approves new gym for church school

Pinecrest council members agreed Tuesday to allow St. Louis Catholic Church and Covenant School to build a new gym on its property.

About 200 people came to Village Hall on Tuesday to support or oppose the project, filling not only the council chamber, but also the lobby and a second room where the hearing was video-streamed.

Neighbors, including some church members, said they fear the gym would be rented out for special events, bringing unwanted traffic and noise to the neighborhood, and that the big structure would be out of place in the area.

Council members ultimately approved the permit unanimously.

“Typically I caution us to move slowly,” said Vice Mayor Joseph Corradino, “but we’re not the applicant here. They do comply with code and zoning. I don’t think we have a reason to deny them.”

The 50-year-old church, at 7270 SW 120th St. plans to build a new playground 109 new parking spaces in addition to the 16,000-square-foot gym.

Kevin Kelleher, a member of the church and Pinecrest resident, said his mailbox has been stuffed with misleading fliers with crazy concerns, but he thinks the plan will have little downside.

“Concerns don’t seem related to this project,” Kelleher said. “We are taking existing activities from the church’s sacred space and moving them to the gym.”

He added that the plan will move children from the parking lot and open field where they now play to the indoor gym, reducing noise for the neighbors. The church hopes the additional parking will also alleviate traffic.

Nancy Mckee, who is in charge of preparing the church for mass, spoke in support of the project. She said the school now uses the church sanctuary for school events such as concerts and meetings.

“It really really irks me to see us roll the altar out in the hallway to make space for concerts,” Mckee said. “This space would allow us to do the non-holy things in that multipurpose auditorium space and keep that holy space holy.”

Kelleher hopes the church will develop better relationships with its neighbors to deal with “real problems” when they occur.

But to Daria Castan, 51, who has been a member of the church for 28 years, this problem is very real.

“The church has been self-serving and the priest has lied to us,” said Castan, a resident of Southwest 73rd Avenue whose backyard faces the school. “The neighbors are not against the building, we are against where it’s going to be and how it is being planned. They should have worked with the neighbors to reach some sort of resolution.”

Castan said she does not want to look out of her kitchen window to a 21-foot building.

While the church said it has worked with the neighbors, Castan said the plans that were finalized in June were only made available three weeks ago. “They basically told us this is how it’s going to be. That’s not ‘working with us.’ 

Castan said this is not the first time the church has lied to its neighbors.

Rod Castan, 49, presented a slideshow with pictures of their backyard where the church is supposed to maintain a “green-space buffer.”

“There’s no legitimate buffer,” Rod Castan said, showing a picture of a broken chain-linked fence. “The church has not kept up the image of Pinecrest that we live for.”

Mayor Cindy Lerner acknowledged that prior leaders did not live up to their commitments, but she felt this was not a reason to deny the church.

“There are many commitments yet to be addressed. There’s a deep rift within the congregation, but acts of faith will help healing,” she said.

In other action, the Village Council accepted a donation of $17,569 from the Nissan Corp. for the first fast electric car charging station in South Florida.

The station, which will be installed at Pinecrest Gardens by March 31, will be able to charge a car in about an hour. It will be the first public fast-charger in Florida and it will be free of charge.

AECOM, an architectural and engineering firm, also presented a tentative master plan for future renovations of Coral Pine Park, 6955 SW 104th St.

The project, which has no set date, would include a multipurpose room, new fencing and renovations to the entrance of the park. It also would address problems of flooding and invasive species.

Council members will discuss the item again next year.

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