Waters Church wins approval for Walnut Hill location

Waters Church wins approval for Walnut Hill location

Waters Church Lead Pastor Tim Hatch, Executive Pastor Shane Parsons and Woonsocket Campus Pastor Jim Shekleton were present at a Zoning Board of Review meeting last Monday night when the board voted to approve the church’s move to a new location in Walnut Hill Plaza. The church plans to begin worshipping in the new location by the end of the year. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)
Church plans move to new space by end of year

WOONSOCKET – Every Sunday morning, members of Waters Church load up two trailers’ worth of equipment at their North Attleboro, Mass., location, drive over to Hamlet Middle School in Woonsocket, unload and spend the next three hours setting up for their 10:30 a.m. service.

When it’s over, the entire process repeats in reverse as members pack their gear away until the following week.

It’s a colossal effort to worship on Sunday mornings, one that relies on the dedication of members and volunteers. However, after nearly two years of hosting services in the leased space, the nondenominational Christian church has found a home of its own.

On Monday, the Zoning Board of Review approved a use variance to allow the church to establish a permanent location at 1500 Diamond Hill Road, a basement unit of Walnut Hill Plaza that was once home to a Mark Stevens outlet. The approval was the final hurdle for the church, which has signed a lease agreement with the plaza owner and plans to begin worshipping in the new space by the end of the year.

The Rev. Tim Hatch, the church’s lead pastor, told The Breeze the church has spent several months searching all over the city for a space that would suit their needs, but had difficulty finding an owner that would rent to a place of worship. The new space, he said, will allow them to establish a permanent presence with room to grow their membership.

“Really, we just want to establish long-term roots and tell the city that we’re here to stay,” he said.

Part of what makes the arrangement ideal, according to William Coyle, a real estate expert called to testify by the church, is that the space is not suited for anything else. Though it was originally constructed as a retail space, the 10,000-square-foot unit is physically separated from the rest of the plaza, making it an unappetizing choice for potential commercial tenants. The space has remained stubbornly vacant for close to two decades as other tenants have come and gone on the plaza’s main level, and the owners, according to Coyle, are eager to fill it with a nontraditional use.

“This use is filling a gap that otherwise wouldn’t,” he told board members.

In addition to filling the empty space, Coyle pointed out that the church, like other activity-based tenants in the plaza such as a gym and a trampoline park, could help drive traffic, creating a boon for commercial stores.

The proposal drew a roomful of supporters to City Hall Monday night, including Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, who emphasized the church’s outreach in the community and reiterated the difficulty of drawing tenants to Walnut Hill Plaza, a struggle that has been ongoing for several administrations.

“What this does from an economic standpoint for the city is it brings people to a space that has been dark for a very long time,” she said.

Waters Church, an offshoot of churches in North Attleboro and Norwood, Mass., first arrived in the city in 2017, offering services to an initial group of about 35 worshippers in Hamlet Middle School. Since then, it’s grown to about 100 people and established a footprint in the community, organizing trash cleanups and other outreach activities at the middle schools. According to the Rev. Jim Shekleton, campus pastor, the church hopes to continue its outreach at the schools from the new location and will seek out other spaces where it can continue to host outdoor events.

At least 30 members of the church waited anxiously in the audience to hear the Zoning Board’s decision Monday night, many sporting shirts that read, “We love Woonsocket.” With the exception of a few concerns about parking, which were laid to rest when attorney David Spinella told board members the building owner also owns the bowling alley building next door and will be able to use the lot for overflow parking, board members unanimously supported the proposal. The decision drew cheers from church members who have waited a long time for a permanent home.

“Our members are anxiously awaiting the opening of the new location,” said Hatch.

The building, he said, is currently an “empty shell” and will require interior renovations to put up walls and create separate rooms for the church’s main services and children’s program. If all goes according to plan, the church hopes to move to the new space by Christmas.

Comments

I am happy to see such beautiful people find a home and I know they will be an asset to the community! They have the heart of the Lord and will help those in need of spiritual and other matters God's children need in this world.

This area (THE Plaza area ) should be exclusive to businesses ... We dpo not even have a real supermarket in the city anymore !!!I remember when Diamond Hill, as well as the whole of Woonsocket was thriving but so many businesses were taxed out of here by irresponsible tax and spend policies by politicians ... I do NOT approve ...

I believe the tax rolls don't suffer when a business closes. As the real estate is still taxed even if the business is closed. Many of the closing were nationally related. (Sears) Or general overall company plans. (WalMart/Lowes) Note: Not sure about Woonsocket's inventory or fixture tax policies

First of all. There is zero impact on the amount of taxes that the owners of the plaza will be paying to the city. The location of the church has been advertised to lease for several years. The owners of the plaza have the right to enjoy full and beneficial use of their property. I believe the relocation of this church will not only allow the plaza owners to rent a previously "unrentable" part of their property, it will bring traffic to the area on Sunday mornings. Like the DMV in the other plaza the businesses up and down Diamond Hill Rd will see an increase in their business. So as I see it it is a win win situation. Good luck to them.