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The proposed expansion of People's Church would more than double the size of the current building by adding a full kitchen, sleeping facilities and showered bathrooms. The Rev. Bob Kelly notes that the expansion would make the facility safer and offer more amenities for continuing the church's homeless ministry. Submitted Schematic Courtesy People's Church

ACLU accepts People's Church case

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The American Civil Liberties Union has accepted the People's Church case.

Audrey Thayer, director of the ACLU's Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project in Bemidji, confirmed the news on Thursday. A lawsuit is anticipated.

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The case will center on the ability for People's Church to provide food and shelter to the homeless.

The proposed expansion of People's Church was denied, as was a requested Conditional Use Permit, by the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board last week.

Mil Milender, the planning administrator for the joint planning office, said that CUP request was based on the expansion - since the expansion was denied, the CUP was denied as well.

The church has been operating under a Special Use Permit, given by the city of Bemidji before the JPB was established.

Milender said the SUP is still valid; if it ever were to be reconsidered, it would be reviewed under the conditions that existed when People's Church was granted the SUP in 1997.

People's Church, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, continues to raise funds for its expansion, which would double the size of the current facility, adding a full kitchen, sleeping facilities and showered bathrooms.

The Rev. Bob Kelly, the pastor of People's Church, said he would like to raise $300,000 in total for the addition. The church has qualified for a matching grant through the ELCA up to $75,000. The church currently has raised about $24,000 since the fundraising was kicked off in November.

Four variances for expansion were denied as part of the application process. Two of the variances - a 12 percent impervious surface variance and a 15-spot parking space variance - generated the most statements of opposition from JPB members.

Kelly has said that perhaps if the church buys more property surrounding the current building that the expansion would be possible.

Meetings planned

Meetings will be held Sundays in the coming months as the community is invited to gather and discuss the history and future of People's Church.

Meetings will begin this Sunday and continue on March 29; April 5, 19 and 26; and May 3, 10 and 17 (there will be no meeting on Easter Sunday, April 12). The meetings will be held at 2:30 p.m. at People's Church, 824 America Ave. N.W.

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