The Martha’s Vineyard Commission last week unanimously approved plans to convert the old industrial building next to the Oak Bluffs library on Pacific avenue, formerly used as a trash hauling depot, into a place of worship for the Igreja Evangalica Assemblia de Deus church, whose congregation is predominantly Brazilian immigrants.
Although Island construction has been sluggish recently, the business of Brazilian churches has been robust. The newly approved church in Oak Bluffs is one of four Brazilian churches to be built here in recent years.
The Growing Church, or Igreja Que Cresce, off State Road in Vineyard Haven, was approved and built three years ago; the World Revival Church on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road was approved by the commission in 2006 and opened last year, while the Assemblia De Deus Nova Vida church right down the road was approved earlier this year.
The congregations of all four churches are reportedly growing despite indications the overall population of Brazilian nationals here is declining. And while all three existing churches are a runaway success in terms of membership, they have drawn criticism from some neighbors concerned about noise, traffic and a high level of activity in the buildings.
The Brazilian churches hold numerous weekly church services — usually between three and five — and the buildings double as social centers for a wide range of gatherings, services and celebrations.
At last Thursday’s MVC meeting, several commissioners made note of the high level of activity at some Brazilian churches but also praised applicant Carlos Ribeiro of the Igreja Evangalica Assemblia church and architect Jamie Weisman for working with neighbors to minimize concerns about loud or disruptive gatherings.
Although some neighbors previously have raised concerns about the Igreja Evangalica Assemblia project, none attended last Thursday.
“I have to say I had serious reservations about this project,” commissioner Carlene Gatting said. “I had thought it was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I thought about all the evening services in a rather densely populated neighborhood . . . I know there have been problems with other churches that hold [multiple] evening services,” she said, adding:
“But I have been impressed with the compromises by the applicant and the work they have done. I think none of the neighbors are here tonight because they are comfortable with the changes that have been made. I think they trust you will do what is necessary to be a good neighbor.”
Plans call for the current 4,700-square foot building, formerly used by the trash hauling company Browning Ferris Industries (BFI), to be converted into a new one-story church.
The footprint of the building will not be changed, and the applicants will use a phased construction plan beginning with landscaping and screening. Plans also include office space for the pastor, treasurer and secretary, as well as a kitchen for preparing food for church use only and a study for between eight and 10 people.
A list of offers submitted by the church and accepted by the commission as conditions of approval stipulate that there will be no more than four regular church activities with 25 or more people a week. The church can hold one additional church-related special activity with 25 or more people each month. No limitations were placed on activities such as choir practice, religious school, and other church related-activities that involve fewer than 25 people.
Church services and activities will be limited to the hours between 9 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. The main sanctuary used for services will have a capacity of 125 seats. Other conditions addressed limiting noise, including the installation of two sets of doors into the sanctuary, acoustical absorbing materials and a rule prohibiting outdoor socializing.
Several commissioners praised the applicants and the architect for working with neighbors to come up with the best possible plan.
“[Architect] Jamie Weisman has worked on these past three [church projects] and I want to compliment him. Over those three projects we have learned and grown together,” said commissioner John Breckenridge. “This particular applicant has taken extensive steps to work with the abutters to address their concerns.”