2018-09-06 / Around Town

Church Secures Blessing from Zoning Board

By Christopher Allen

The site of the Newport Athletic Club at 66 Valley Road will be trading workouts for worship, if a tentative sales agreement currently in the works is finalized. The prospective new owner, OceanPointe Christian Church, received unanimous approval from the Middletown Zoning Board of Review at the Aug. 28 meeting for a special use permit to operate within an “office business-traffic sensitive” district, a regulatory hurdle that puts it one step closer to holding religious services on the three-acre property.

“I think that OceanPointe has proven time and time again in the short time they have been here [that] they have been a very visible community partner,” said Middletown Zoning Board of Review’s Chairman James Miller.

Co-owner and General Manager of the Newport Athletic Club, Kevin Buck, did not return calls from Newport This Week for comment on the status of the sales agreement. Attorney for OceanPointe, Craig Sampson, declined to comment.

OceanPointe was launched in 2014 as a non-denominational Christian church, holding services since that time in the Island Cinema complex at 866 West Main Rd. According to Pastor Jeff Stalnaker, the potential move to the Valley Road property was one of necessity.

The congregation has seen continuous growth and with the cinema’s planned renovations, including the replacement of its traditional movie theater seats to larger leather recliners, the total seating capacity for the church was set to decrease by half.

“We needed to be able to find something that would meet our growth needs for an extended future,” he said. According to the church’s own numbers, a typical Sunday service will attract about 250 parishioners, though their flock is growing.

“We have people who come from as far north as Somerset.... North Kingstown. But the heart of our people come from Middletown,” he said.

Stalnaker also said that the exterior of the building will remain mostly intact, with the only renovation being a new handicap accessible entrance.

The property includes 206 parking spaces to accommodate church services.

“Finding any kind of property [in Middletown] with any kind of parking is so difficult,” Stalnaker said.

Sampson told the board that the space will be used for three services on Sunday and for Thursday evening services. The church will also be open to local community groups, such as school theater organizations or musical performers, who will have access to an auditorium that is being built.

“It’s probably a larger auditorium than most people have,” he said. “[Additional uses] would be community-based type meetings.”

James Houle, a real estate consultant and appraiser, told the board why the church was a good fit for the surrounding businesses and properties.

“It certainly is in harmony with the comprehensive plan,” he said. “It didn’t look as if there was anything that was incompatible.”

Performance Physical Therapy, the company that has rented 1,100 square feet of space within the Athletic Club building for two years, will remain on the property, at least until their current lease expires in 2021, if they so choose, according to Sampson.

As for the 75-foot pool on the property grounds, Stalnaker told the board that due to high maintenance and insurance costs, it would have to be removed, possibly to provide additional parking spaces.

“They [insurance company] would not insure us if we kept the pool,” he said.

The Zoning Board will meet next on Sept. 25.

In other matters:

The board also approved the following petitions:

. A variance for Pamela Correia to construct a two-story garage addition at 74 Oliphant Lane.

. A special use permit for Catherine Anderson to construct a 1,820-square-foot, ground-mounted solar array at 970 Green End Ave.

. A variance for Sean Napolitano to allow construction of a single-family dwelling at 0 Wolcott Ave.

. Nine other petitions were continued to the Sept. 25 meeting.

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