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St. Mary's lobbying for new church

Historic St Mary Catholic Church in Swormville has started a lobbying campaign among parishioners to win approval from the Clarence Town Board for its plans to build a new modern-looking church at least twice the present size.

In a July 8 letter, parishioners were told the issue is one of "religious freedom" and were urged to write, e-mail or telephone Town Board members. And at least some parishioners are doing so.

"We're all getting deluged" with letters and e-mails from parishioners, Councilman Joseph Weiss said of the Town Board. He said he has gotten about 38 such letters or e-mails so far, versus about six that oppose the project.

Town Supervisor Kathleen Hallock said she has received about the same number, most of them e-mails and many copied to the rest of the board.

Hallock said it is not certain when the board will make a decision on the St. Mary's matter. The board will schedule a public hearing at its July 25 meeting. A public hearing is required because the size of the project would require a special-exception-use permit.

Another issue the board will deal with involves federal legislation designed to protect against using land-use regulations to discriminate against religions, Hallock said.

The law frees religious institutions of some of the zoning requirements other builders must follow, she said.

"We will need to be very careful when we rule on this," Hallock said.

At issue is the nearly 16,000-square-foot new church that the parish wants to build behind its existing church, at the intersection of Transit and Stahley roads.

The current church -- built during the Civil War era -- has seen its parish double in the last couple of decades, mirroring Clarence's population boom, and is now badly overcrowded, church leaders say.

The current church would remain intact.

In late May, the town Planning Board rejected St. Mary's request for concept approval, citing concerns about size, traffic and whether it will fit with the ambience of the Swormville hamlet.
Who sent the letter to parishioners, a copy of which was obtained by The Buffalo News, is unclear. It is unsigned.

Lou Izzo, a church spokesman, could not be reached to comment.

e-mail: ncervantes@ buffnews.com

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