AUBURN | The Case Mansion's immediate future has been decided.
The Auburn Zoning Board of Appeals voted to reject the proposed use variance of the property by Ministro Ministries.
The vote was 5-1, with Board Chair Edward Darrow in favor of the use. It came following a State Environmental Quality Review of the proposed use.
Board members commended Ministro Ministries' proposed mission, but various members were concerned that the variance would affect the property in the future, even after the organization has moved on.
"It already has changed the essential character of the neighborhood," said board member Scott Kilmer. "We have a chance to make it right."
The rejected variance proposed that the mansion would be used for three main uses: housing at-need individuals, preferably past military; educational and vocational classes and special events such as socials and dances.
As the mansion has danced in legal limbo, Ministro Ministries' proposed use was stayed by the law, according to counselor Andrew Fusco, as the organization went through the application for a use variance.
Fusco said the future of the residents currently living at the mansion will be decided with what Ministro Ministries decides to do within 30 days of when the board's decision was filed.
The organization's legal representative, Kevin Mendillo, said Ministro would be considering all options at this stage, including an appeal.
Michael Henty, director of Ministro Ministries, said several other local churches and organizations have done activities like those he proposed. He said there is a need for his proposed action in the community, especially for at-need housing.
"Most of (the concern) was exaggerated because the neighbors did not want to have it in their backyard," Henty said "This is a very unique structure and people are drawn to it. We've created some very special memories for the community."
In hopes of a "compromise," Mendillo said Ministro withdrew large-scale outdoor special events and gatherings of 100 or more people, such as weddings, from their application in respect to the neighbors' concerns.
Over 20 individuals spoke at the meeting when the floor was open to the public. Those opposed were mostly neighbors, saying they were worried about what they believed to be proposed commercial activities in a residential district.
Attorney Wendy Marsh, who represented the neighbors in past legal proceedings, warned the ZBA of granting "random uses," saying these types of uses could possibly "destroy" a neighborhood.
"If this use variance is granted, there is nothing stopping them from demolishing the Case Mansion," Marsh said.
Others spoke either in support of Ministro's mission or to state they have not seen any concerns at the mansion as it's used now. This number included two current residents: a veteran and a recovering alcoholic.
In August, the city's Historic Resources Review Board unanimously decided to give a negative recommendation to the ZBA, saying the use did not adhere to the city's historic preservation guidelines.
The public hearing was conducted much like the Auburn City Council's public to be heard. Individuals were given three minutes to speak despite it technically being a public hearing.
Also, Fusco said counselors could not speak during the public session, but Marsh was allowed by Darrow to provide a statement during that period.