Despites recommendations from staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve, the Oro Valley Town Council rejected a proposal to allow the St. Mark Catholic Church to build a new sanctuary that would reach 45 feet in height.

During the May 4 meeting, residents living near the church property, located at 2727 W. Tangerine Road, expressed concern over building height.

The church is looking to expand in order to accommodate a growing congregation, which currently stands at 800. The proposed new building would cover 63,672 square feet of the 17-acre foot property, and would vary in height between 15 and 35 feet, with a tower proposed on the sanctuary at 45 feet.

The current zoning limits a building height to 18 feet.

Dick Miller, who lives near the church property, said, “The building is designed to dominate the site rather than complement the landscape. The same amount of seating could be accomplished without the building being 45 feet high.”

Future resident Dennis Devenport, who lives in Texas, attended the meeting. While the church has compromised on a number of issues, the height is still a concern that has not been resolved, he said.

Councilman Steve Solomon led the council discussions, noting the church obviously did make a lot of compromises throughout the planning process, but not on what he considered one of the more important issues.

Liam Leahy, of the Catholic Church, said they have made compromises. She said 45 feet is much lower than towers most churches have, noting many have towers of 100 feet or more.

“This project is absolutely necessary to provide a quality church with a tasteful look,” she said. “The height allows proper acoustics and feel.”

Solomon said he believes in property rights, but zoning is a completely different issue.

“If you bought this property knowing the zoning, then neighbors should have some say,” he said.

Solomon made a motion to approve the zoning from R-144, single-family residential, to a private school district, with the condition that the building heights not exceed 28 feet, and the proposed tower does not exceed 35 feet.

The motion passed 7-0.

The school designation will not only allow the church to proceed with new building plans, but it will allow members to enroll their children in preschool and kindergarten classes.

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