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Getting The OK

Former Church Approved To Become A Dance Studio

A use variance request has been approved to change the former Grace Chapel church into a dance studio. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The former Grace Chapel in the city of Jamestown is one step closer to becoming a dance studio

The Jamestown Zoning Board of Appeals last week approved a use variance for Jaclyn Ferraro and Vicky Haskell, who want to transform the former church, located at 379 Buffalo St., into Dancing With Victoria dance studio.

Earlier this month, the board tabled the use variance petition because of some questions on whether the change from a church to a dance studio meet the four criteria points to allow for a use variance to be issued.

Michael Panebianco, board member, had suggested the applicants consultant an attorney and a realtor to demonstrate why the property owner needs to sell the church to have it transformed into a dance studio. The criteria point most in question is whether the property owner could receive a reasonable return if the property continues as it’s currently zoned as a church.

A church is permitted in an R-1 (single-family residential) district. However, a dance studio is not and its first permitted zone is an R-C (multiple-family residential and professional office) district.

R. Shane Uber, attorney, spoke last week for the applicants and discussed why the return on investment wouldn’t be available if the property remained as a church.

He said if the church was to be transformed into a single-family residential property, it would cost $150,000 to $160,000 to make the change, which wouldn’t be practical because the average property value in the neighborhood is around $30,000.

Uber also said it has been difficult for other churches in the area to sell, even before the start of the pandemic. For example, he said a church on Hall Avenue took 464 days to sell and it sold at a price lower than the original listing.

“These church properties are very difficult to sell,” he said.

Uber also discussed how with Ring Elementary School next to the former church that it’s a great location for a dance studio.

“This is the type of project that the city should be supporting,” he said.

Stephen Sorg, board member, said if the zoning board approved the use variance that it would be “spot zoning,” which is illegal. He said the property is probably improperly zoned, but that still doesn’t justify the zoning board approving the use variance.

Ellen Ditanto, board chairwoman, said the city’s zoning code has been outdated for a number of years and has requested that city officials update the laws.

Panebianco, Tim Smeal, board member, and Robert Kenyon all said the use variance fits the criteria the zoning board needs to follow.

“I disagree with the notion that this would be spot zoning,” Panebianco said. “(I agree with Uber’s legal) briefs, which say this complies with case law and the zoning statues of Jamestown.”

The use variance passed by a vote of 5-2, with Stephanie Camay, Maria Jones, Kenyon, Panebianco and Smeal voting “yes” and Ditanto and Sorg voting “no.”

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