Hillsboro council turns down church request

The Heartland Foods building, empty since the end of 2014, will remain on the market in Hillsboro Heights as a home for a for-profit business following the vote of the city council Feb. 16.Preferring to protect a prime retail location, the Hillsboro City Council voted at its Feb. 16 meeting not to change a city ordinance that would have allowed Grace Com?munity Fellowship to purchase the Heartland Foods building in Hillsboro Heights.

The 3-0 vote, with Coun?cilor David Loewen abstaining, countered the 5-0 vote of the city?s planning and zoning commission to recommend the ordinance change.

About 10 Grace adherents attended the meeting, as did Paul Barnes and Chris Barnes of Herington, representing the Heartland Foods ownership group.

City concerns

Early in the discussion, Councilor Bob Watson empathized with the church?s situation, but indicated his opposition to the sale.

?I appreciate that the church needs a building and would like to have one?and we?d like to see you have one,? Watson said. ?And I can appreciate that the owners of the property would definitely like to sell it.

?But the thing about it from the city?s standpoint, the city spent a substantial amount of money to put the streets in, put in the utilities, for a retail district,? he said.

Watson said the Heart?land building, situated along U.S. Highway 56 and the primary street that enters Hillsboro Heights, makes it ?one of the best properties in the retail district.?

Watson said the sale of the property to a non-profit entity would cost the city about $23,000 in annual property taxes?the equivalent of 1.5 mills. It would also negate the possibility of generating sales-tax revenue by having a retail tennant there in the future.

?I have some problems with that,? Watson said. ?So I?m probably going to vote no.?

Watson also suggested that putting a non-retail business in the middle of a retail district could negatively affect retail businesses.

Church?s input

Council members invited Grace representatives to explain their desire to locate in Hillsboro Heights.

Jim Villa?nueva, chair of the building committee, said the congregation wanted a facility of sufficient size that did not look like a traditional church building.

?Part of the purpose of Grace is to look to bring people to understand who God is who are not typically in a church,? he said. ?Our feeling as leadership, and as a body, is that some folks who have never been in a church situation would probably not want to go to a place that looks like a church.

?An establishment like the Heartland building does not look like a church from the outside,? he added. ?We would not want to change the exterior, other than a sign and whatever code says. All the (renovation) we would do would be on the inside.?

Jesse Schumacher, who serves on the committee with Villanueva, said remodeling an existing building was more financially feasible for the congregation, which has been operating in town for a little less than four years.

?Stewardship is a big piece of this, realizing that this was a way we could handle the resources in an appropriate manner to be able to have a building without breaking the bank, so to speak,? Schumacher said.

He added that Grace liked this location for the same reason the city does.

?I think the location does make sense for us because it is a prime location,? Schu?macher said. ?It?s a place that people will see, it?s a place where people will be going by.?

Villanueva addressed Watson?s concern that having a church in the middle of a retail development would have a negative effect on other retail businesses.

?If we look at a church operating on a Sunday, and probably Wednesday even?ings, that alone would affect foot traffic,? he said. ?Foot traffic would also cater to the businesses in the area.?

A former employee at Sonic Drive-In, Villanueva said current management there ?had no problem with us being there because it?s an opportunity to attract business.?

The Grace congregation has been meeting at the Hillsboro Elementary School since arriving as a church plant sponsored by Grace Community Church in New?ton.

Schumacher said the church?s contract with USD 410 is year by year, but that the church had expressed to the school board its intention to move out of the building within three to five years.

Councilor Byron McCarty asked if the city could help the congregation find an alternate location.

?We know God is sovereign,? Schumacher replied. ?He knows where eventually we?re going to build. What?ever decision you guys come to, we?re going to support and we understand.?

Driggers, Watson and McCarty voted not to change the existing ordinance, with Driggers commenting: ?If I had zero hope that we would have anybody else filling those buildings, that would make a difference to me. I guess I still have hope that we?ll be able to find a retailer.?

Loewen abstained, saying this was the first time he had heard the church?s perspective and ?had a lot to think about.?

Seller?s comments

Prior to the vote, Paul Barnes of Heartland Foods challenged the council?s conclusions:

?You have three buildings now that are going to be sitting there deteriorating. Now you have somebody who wants to come in and renovate a building, be active in that area and bring business to that area for the other retail that?s there.

?We had retail that came into town and everybody thought it would draw business to town, and that failed miserably.

?There?s been no inquiries about anybody going in for 14 months. Do you leave it empty forever is the question. Or do we make good use of one (interested buyer), because if they walk away who knows when we?ll have another one??

Written By
More from Don Ratzlaff
Hillsboro hoopsters open 2016 with a sweep of Lyons
Hillsboro basketball teams started the new year on a positive note, sweeping...
Read More