by Joni Astrup
A request for a permit to convert a vacant bank building in downtown Elk River into a church goes before the Elk River City Council on Monday, March 19.
The Elk River Planning Commission considered the request last night (March 13), and voted 4-1 to recommend that the City Council issue the conditional use permit. No one spoke at a public hearing held before the vote.
The permit is required for Elk River Lutheran to turn the former First National Bank building at 729 Main St. into a church. The congregation currently operates out of a strip mall between Coborn’s and Menards.
Elk River Lutheran has made an offer to purchase the vacant bank building. The purchase is contingent on approval by the city of the conditional use permit, according to a project narrative from Vanman Architects and Builders and Douglas Derr Architects.
Elk River Lutheran is proposing to expand and remodel the bank building, which overlooks the Mississippi River.
The bank’s old drive-through lanes would be removed and a 3,000-square-foot addition built onto the north and northeast corner of the building. The interior of the building would be remodeled and include a 365-seat sanctuary, a large fellowship area overlooking the river, classrooms, offices and other spaces, according to Elk River Planning Manager Jeremy Barnhart.
“The church wants their facility to function both as a worship place and a resource to the community,” according to the project narrative.
The sanctuary space, for instance, could host events such as indoor music recitals, choral events and community theater productions.
A lower level riverfront community room is also in the plans. That space could be used not only for church functions, but as a meeting space for community organizations, according to the project narrative.
Also planned is an outdoor plaza near Main Street where the public could sit, rest and reflect.
Parking, meanwhile, is one of the issues.
The city requires the church to have 122 parking spaces (one space per three seats in the sanctuary). There are approximately 22 parking spaces on the proposed church site. To meet the parking requirements, Elk River Lutheran has agreements with Dare’s Funeral Home next door and First National Bank across the street for the use of 106 parking spaces.
But there was some concern over how much the church would use nearby areas like the public parking just east of the church because of its convenience.
“I think it’s great that something is going into that building,” Planning Commissioner Chad Westberg said. He hopes that the church guides those who come there to use the designated lots at Dare’s and First National.
Parking was one of the concerns raised by Planning Commissioner Dana Anderson, who voted against recommending that the City Council issue a conditional use permit for the church. He also was a little concerned about getting the cart before the horse, since the project also needs a variance from shoreland regulations. The Board of Adjustments is scheduled to consider the variance request on March 20.
Elk River Lutheran formed in 2010 after Central Lutheran Church in Elk River voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Elk River Lutheran is affiliated with the ELCA.
“The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is very excited about Elk River Lutheran Church establishing its new home in downtown Elk River,” according to the project narrative. “The ELCA is providing the financial resources for the purchase and initial remodeling for this project.”
Other entities have also expressed interest in the vacant bank building, including the Elk River Area Arts Alliance that has envisioned it as a potential regional arts center.