Portage shuts down neighborhood church

Portage shuts down neighborhood church

City council members are shutting down a church inside a quiet Portage neighborhood.

Pastor Jared Pierson of ActivateChurch.tv bought a three-story home on West Franklin Street some months ago to house his parish in. His lot of land was home to small, weekly services held in the garage, and his house served as a place for people seeking sanctuary from domestic abuse or other situations by learning from Pierson’s “development program,” or life coaching of sorts. Those people stay with Pierson’s family inside the home for as long as necessary, he says.

“If you could imagine some people coming in out of bad situations where they’re struggling in life….  we bring them into this home where there’s love, acceptance, holding hands in prayer,” Pierson says. “It restores to people a sense of dignity.”

But the city of Portage has shut down those services.

Last Monday, Portage’s Planning Commission held a public hearing on Pierson’s request for a conditional use permit, needed for him to continue holding services inside his garage. The commission unanimously denied it, citing local ordinances.

Steve Sobiek, Portage’s director of business and development planning, said the permit would break zoning codes that require churches to be 50 feet from any residential property line, include six parking spaces and off-street parking, along with other requirements.

Sobiek also noted zoning codes prohibit the home from housing people who aren’t related to Pierson – for example, he said, allowing someone to live on the third floor would require the construction of an outdoor ladder of sorts – something the house currently doesn’t have.

 “You’ve got the parking issues, loading zone issues,  and then you have the fact that you have multiple families living in a single-family home – those are all code violations,” Sobiek said.

“The city has an obligation to enforce code for health and safety, not only for the residents that might reside in that building, but for the adjoining property owners.”

Sobiek said of the 11 total city residents who spoke up at the public hearing, eight were in opposition to the church operating in the neighborhood.

Pierson, though, says he’s determined to find a way to make it work. He’s currently working with the city to find another location suitable not only for his church, but for 25 people he would like to enroll in his program and house.

“We know we’re going to give people a home, we’re going to see a better culture,” Pierson says.