Belfast church's £3m plan for 22 apartments delayed for site visit
A decision on whether to give the green light to a church's controversial £3m plan to build 22 apartments in an affluent area of south Belfast has been postponed.
Windsor Baptist Church has submitted revised proposals for the development at Malone Avenue after a backlash from residents.
The church wants permission to knock down its existing building and construct 22 apartments and associated car parking on the site.
It was recommended for approval by Belfast City Council planners, despite more than 100 fresh objections.
But the committee last night heard councillors want to carry out a site visit before deciding on whether to grant approval.
James Stinson, representing the Lower Malone residents, said he was "extremely concerned" about the recommendation to approve the scheme, and said the group had highlighted "significant and evidence-based" reasons why the three-storey development should not get the go-ahead.
Tom Stokes of TSA Planning, on behalf of the church, said Windsor Baptist Church is planning to move to a new site on the Lisburn Road as it is growing in "size and congregation".
He said the church had carried out a community consultation with locals, and met with planners to discuss the proposal.
DUP councillor Graham Craig, who addressed the committee, said that Windsor Baptist was building the apartments to help fund the £3m revamp of the former Majestic cinema on the Lisburn Road, which it wants to turn into its new church. A total of 142 objections were received, 97 of which followed the submission of the amended plan that reduced the number of apartments from 26 to 22.
Concerns include "gross over-development", the dominant scale and massing of the building, and fears that the plans "do not respect the architectural style, existing densities, building line or pattern of development".
Conor Doyle, secretary of the Lower Malone Residents' Association, previously told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's surprising and alarming that planning officials think these three-storey apartment blocks should get the go-ahead in a part of Malone Avenue where semi-detached homes are the norm.
"We want to see sites like this developed in a way that adds to and doesn't detract from the unique character of the Lower Malone Conservation Area.
"Development should encourage families to live in our neighbourhood and help build community. This would do the opposite."
Planners said "the replacement scheme would represent a high-quality design that would enhance the character and appearance" of the area.
While planners have recommended the apartment building gets permission, there are a series of conditions.
They include showing which materials will be used in its construction and demonstrating that there will be satisfactory bin storage and collection.
Windsor Baptist Church is currently transforming the former Majestic cinema, which it will use as its new meeting hall.
It is one of the last remaining venues of its kind in the city, but has lain empty for several years.