Residents have reacted with anger at a plan by the controversial Exclusive Brethren to open a large prayer hall in the suburbs. It's the latest community fighting back against the Exclusive Brethren expansion.
The Brethren today issued a statement about their proposed project.
Statement from the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship
Proposed Church Hall on Forum Drive, Heathcote
A proposed Exclusive Brethren meeting hall and six new private residential blocks on Forum Drive in Heathcote, southern Sydney, will have minimal impact on local residents.
Church members in Heathcote have met with many neighbours in person, explaining the efforts the congregation has taken to ensure the use of the hall will not disrupt their neighbourhood.
We appreciate the concern of locals about possible additional traffic as Church members have long been part of the Engadine-Heathcote community, where they operate many businesses and employ many non-Brethren staff.
We are talking with the local community and are keen to keep them informed of our plans and to get their feedback.
The 2.35ha Heathcote block was sold to the Church by Landcom via open public tender through an advertisement placed in the Sydney Morning Herald in September 2008.
Our planning consultants have fully assessed likely vehicle movements associated with the development. We have provided sufficient on-site parking to cater for the number of cars expected.
There will be no on-street car parking as a result of the development.
A detailed traffic report prepared by Traffic Impact Services Pty Ltd concluded “the projected traffic volumes … will not impact on the overall amenity and safety of the street system”.
The proposed one-and-a-half storey hall replaces an existing facility in Roseberry Street, which no longer meets the needs of the Church’ congregation. A meeting hall has been on that site since 1974.
The primary focus of our independent planning consultants has been to prepare a development that causes minimal impact on the community and surrounding landscape.
That is something the Brethren does for all of its new meeting halls.
We teach respect for the general community and seek to live at peace with the general public.
Landscaping, building design, location of services and existing native bushland will act as a buffer and screening from adjacent residences to the east and the Heathcote National Park to the west.
The 645 sq m hall will be set back from Forum Drive and cater for between 35 and 400 people in a given month, with on-site parking for 129 cars. Vehicular access to the hall will be via either Forum Drive (North) or Forum Drive (South).
Every Sunday morning a small congregation travelling in about 10 cars will attend the hall for a 6am service.
Every third Sunday at 10.30am between 300 and 400 people, travelling in no more than 100 cars, will attend a 90 minute service. A similar number will attend a 7.45pm service every Thursday.
A service for 900 people may be held only once a year at the most, most likely on a week day. Some worshippers at that event could be transported by bus, which will not park on site nor in surrounding streets. None of our services occurs during peak hours.
Our services are quiet and simple meetings such as The Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion), Gospel preaching’s, prayer meetings and bible readings with no musical instruments.
If you ask people who live near our existing halls, they will tell you they rarely notice us.
Of importance is that the site maintains an overall character of a natural bushland setting, while meeting strict bushfire protection regulations.
The Sutherland Shire Council told the Church its plan to build a private road through the site would significantly improve bushfire safety in the area.
The road, which will provide access to the meeting hall, will be accessible to emergency vehicles and neighbours from both Forum Drive (North) and Forum Drive (South) in the unfortunate event of a bushfire.
The six vacant residential lots will be fully serviced with sewerage, water, power and phone and sold on the open residential property market.
One lot may be purchased by a Church family, though as a rule Brethren do not live side-by-side or in immediate proximity of one another.
The six blocks will be accessible off Forum Drive (South), which will be extended, with the cost borne by the Church.