FULL STORY: Council tables action on permit for Ethiopian Orthodox Church

WORTHINGTON -- Members of the Worthington City Council on Monday tabled a vote on a conditional use permit for the proposed Tsadkane Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church, requesting more time to come to a conclusion.

WORTHINGTON - Members of the Worthington City Council on Monday tabled a vote on a conditional use permit for the proposed Tsadkane Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church, requesting more time to come to a conclusion.


Action will be delayed until the March 26 meeting.


The proposed 24,792-square foot church, located across from Olson Park and south of Sutherland Drive along Crailsheim Drive, has drawn opposition from nearby Glenwood Heights residents who cite a number of concerns - mainly that the church will limit future residential growth in the area.



The Worthington Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit last Tuesday, with the condition that the church be accessed via Crailsheim Drive instead of Sutherland Drive - which Nobles County has previously said it would not allow - and that it be screened off with natural barriers such as trees.


Delaying the vote gives council members time to further explore the county’s position. Council member Amy Ernst argued the county should allow access from Crailsheim Drive, as it has already granted multiple access points to the baseball fields, new ALC facility and Glenwood Heights.


Congregation President Abebe Abetew said church members have been searching for a location for five years. Len Bakken, who has been working with the group, said the site was the perfect match in terms of size and price.

It’s unclear how the council would have voted. Council members Ernst and Larry Janssen expressed their support for the project and its location.



Councilman Chad Cummings said he was split on his decision, having heard good arguments from both sides, and felt he needed more time to work it out.


Councilman Alan Oberloh, contending the church would spoil residential growth to the west of Glenwood Heights, proposed the city sell the congregation an alternative 15-acre site, located south of Merck and east of Shine Bros Corp. near Minnesota 60.


“Let’s be advocates to get this done but let’s do something that works for everyone,” Oberloh said.


Members of the audience let out a groan when City Administrator Steve Robinson said the site was appraised at $35,000 an acre - though Robinson said the city has no financial interest in the property.



Abetew, in an interview after the meeting, said that price is higher than the current price the congregation has secured for its proposed site. As of now, the congregation remains fully focused on the site it has proposed, Abetew said.


The meeting included many of the same faces and arguments that were present at the March 6 Planning Commission meeting. Once again, it was standing-room-only in City Hall.


Supporters for the project, such as Abetew and congregation board member Tsegaye Bayou, said their community needs a church to keep people in Worthington, to teach young children respect and discipline and, most of all, to have a home.


Two members of First Lutheran Church, which currently rents out space to Tsadkane Mariam for worship services, showed their support for their neighbors, citing their good relationship with the Ethiopian congregation.


Justin Larson, both a Glenwood Heights resident and First Lutheran Church member, said he wanted the congregation to find a home, but also said the location does not suit a church. He argued the council should stick to its long-term comprehensive plan and allow the residential area to fully expand.


“Think how Worthington would look if your predecessors had stuck to the original plan for Grand Avenue and made it truly a grand avenue like it was probably meant to be,” Larson said.


Jason Brisson, community and economic development director, said churches fit within residential areas according to the comprehensive plan. Conditional use permits, he added, are meant to mitigate any adverse effects a church might bring to a neighborhood.

Kelly Meyer, a Glenwood Heights resident and former Worthington Planning Commission member, noted the council has the authority to deny the permit. He reiterated the point that the city should protect future housing development.


Glenwood Heights residents brought up race during the meeting - saying opposition has nothing to do with the racial makeup of the congregation, only previously mentioned issues such as future residential development, traffic, loss of tax revenue, noise and fit with the neighborhood.


Cummings indicated he had heard racially driven opposition outside of public meetings.


“We can say it hasn't been some things, but for some people it has and that’s wrong,” he said.

Ultimately, opponents of the project and council members agreed they would work with Tsadkane Mariam to find a location if the permit is voted down in two weeks.


Also during the meeting, council:


  • Approved plans and specifications for the County Ditch 12 Flood Mitigation project and authorized advertisement for bids to be received April 5. The $4.3 million project, assisted by a $2.5 million FEMA grant, aims to reduce flood elevation in the city’s flood zone by creating a detention basin west of Shopko and building new, larger box culverts on Oxford Street and Oslo Street.
  • Approved plans and specifications for water extensions to the District 518 ALC site and authorized advertisement for bids to be received April 6.


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