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Neighbors speak out against church in subdivision

A church has been operating out of this home at 556 Lowden Avenue since 1998. (Michelle Manchir/Tribune)

A church has been operating out of this home at 556 Lowden Avenue since 1998. (Michelle Manchir/Tribune)

A small Christian church that’s been operating out of a Glen Ellyn home since 1998 will face some hurdles as it attempts to get a village permit to continue worship.

Representatives from University Bible Fellowship, the church of about 15 members that operates out of the house at 556 Lowden Avenue, in the Glen Park subdivision, made their case Thursday night to the plan commission for a permit to keep its headquarters at the home, which for now violates village zoning code.

The church, which aims to teach the Bible to college students and young people, was discovered in February 2011 by a village official inspecting the home for a different permit. After that, church officials took action to comply with village code and seek a special use permit.

According to village documents, no complaints from neighbors of the church had ever been reported to the village, but at a plan commission meeting Thursday night, more than 20 residents from the neighborhood showed up to hear the church’s plans, some armed with questions and concerns.

“It’s something that we’ve all casually talked about in hushed tones through the years,” said Kevin Krebs, who lives adjacent to the church property. Krebs said while there have been “no major issues” with the church’s presence, “It has been a topic of debate for quite some time.”

Krebs and other neighbors who spoke at the hearing said the traffic and parking during the church’s prayer groups and worship times can bring as many as 11 cars parked along the streets. In a letter submitted to the plan commission signed by Krebs and another neighborhood resident, Laura Baloun, neighbors are also concerned about how the church’s existence will affect their property values and the overall character of the neighborhood.

Jeremy Hajek, a Lombard resident and longtime member of the church, said the church would not operate any differently if the village grants the necessary permit. He also told the neighbors at the hearing the church will “work with” them to ease any concerns and make cohabitation possible.

“We just want to gather and pray,” Hajek said.

Director of Planning and Development for the village, Staci Hulseberg, said the church does not stand to face any fines or fees for operating in the residential area for so long without the appropriate village permission.

“As soon as we found out they were operating a church in the home, we notified them that they needed a special use permit.  They promptly submitted an application for such.  Therefore, no enforcement actions were necessary,” Hulseberg said in an e-mail.

Plan Commission members decided to continue the public hearing for the church’s permit until Feb. 9. After the panel takes a vote on the permit, the village board will also have to sign off on it.

The church, which  has about 700 followers in the Chicago area, including presence on many college campuses, often operates out of residences because its gatherings are small, said Ron Ward, a pastor for the church in Chicago.

In Glen Ellyn, many College of DuPage students make up the church’s attendees, Hajek said.

While the church has been questioned by some outside the organization for being cult-like and authoritarian, the church has been a member of the National Association of Evangelicals since 2008, said NAE spokeswoman Sarah Kropp.  The church is also listed online as a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

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