A planned expansion at the Life Application Ministries church on Schoenherr Road at Masonic Boulevard has remained uncompleted for years.

A planned expansion at the Life Application Ministries church on Schoenherr Road at Masonic Boulevard has remained uncompleted for years.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Demo ordered for half-built ‘monstrosity’ on Schoenherr

City officials, legal counsel for church debate next step in building saga

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published March 2, 2018

WARREN — A partially constructed addition languishing for years on church property at Schoenherr Road and Masonic Boulevard places “residents, their health, safety and welfare in jeopardy” and should be demolished within 21 days.

That was the collective determination made Feb. 27 by members of the Warren City Council, who voted unanimously to approve an emergency nuisance abatement demolition of the structure, despite objections from representatives of the property owner, the Life Application Ministries church.

Residents living near the planned addition have been petitioning the city to do something about the property for a long time. Jeffrey Curle, who lives on Masonic, across the street from the once-vacant land on the north side of the church, said the odyssey has been going on for about eight years. The construction began as a planned expansion project that officials said was seemingly abandoned after the LAM church purchased the former St. Sharbel property to the immediate south.

Curle and other residents told the council about panels of sheet metal siding that blow off in high winds. Exposed rebar, poor drainage, potential rodents and wild animal activity at the partially enclosed site were also brought up during the discussion.

Some members of the council said they’ve seen photos of the building coming apart or visited the property themselves as evidence of its dilapidation and potential risks.

“I started taking a more active approach to this about two years ago, when panels started flying off like something out of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Councilman Steven Warner said. “It is a safety hazard. It’s been called an attractive nuisance.”

Warner wasn’t the only member of council to express concern about kids, or even adults, venturing near the structure.

Councilman Scott Stevens said he observed 220-volt power lines on the ground, and noted that the metal siding was improperly affixed in an attempt to enclose the steel structure.

The same concerns were heard by the City Council last April. After another meeting in May, abatement by demolition was ordered within 120 days.

But attorney Jason Abel, of the Honigman law firm, representing Life Application Ministries, said the church submitted a new request for site plan approval in August and that they were notified in September that no enforcement action would be taken while the plan remained pending.

The Warren Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the new site plan on Oct. 9. Planning Commission Chair Jocelyn Howard, who is also a member and a spokesperson for the LAM church, did not vote on the matter.

“Given the fact that there is an existing site plan approval, there’s no basis for an order of demolition to be entered and certainly, if this council decides to issue an order of demolition, there’s no basis for immediate action,” Abel said. “Instead, this is a matter that will need to go to circuit court for resolution. Life Application Ministries is simply asking this council to follow the rules.

“As a practical matter, consider this: If the building is ordered to be demolished, my client has site plan approval to put it right back up again and has two years to do it, so all you’re doing is delaying the process and costing the community more money, not only in civil litigation, but also potential damages when my client brings an action if this council decides that demolition is the only answer,” Abel said.

Before the church’s legal counsel weighed in, LAM’s pastor, Bishop Adolphus Cast, urged the council to give the church “just the time frame that is alloted by law” to finish work on the building.

“Let us not embarrass the city, its Planning Commission and the church with another lawsuit and possibly a news frenzy,” Cast said.

Citing another service commitment, Cast said he had to leave the meeting after reading a statement, before members of the City Council could respond.    

Several council members who did speak afterward were unmoved in their decision to order the building demolished.

“Can you show us the valid permit you have in order to have that monstrosity, or what you call a building, that’s up there on a temporary basis? You don’t have a permit. You haven’t had a permit since 2014,” Council President Cecil St. Pierre said, responding to Abel’s timeline.  

Stevens said the statements made on behalf of the church “sounded like a threat to me.”

“You know what I do with threats? I double down. That’s what I do,” Stevens said.

He echoed the questions of some residents about why a $50,000 construction bond was returned to the property owners before construction was completed.

“I’ve wanted to give it a little more time. They’ve had their time,” Stevens said.

Before the vote was taken, he amended the motion to make the abatement an emergency, requiring demolition within 21 days instead of 60.

“These people have endured enough,” Stevens said.

Warren resident Jason Harvey, who lives on nearby Dover Street and was also among the group of residents who spoke at the Planning Commission meeting in October, urged the City Council to order the building demolished at the owner’s expense.

“We tried to work with and not against the church, and they refused to extend their hands of inclusion and work with us,” Harvey said. “Please tear this dilapidated structure down, using the church’s money and not taxpayers’ money, or place a lien on the property until the teardown costs are refunded to the hardworking taxpayers of Warren.

“We shouldn’t have to pay for the church’s mistake of building too big for its britches. That’s not our fault,” Harvey said.