Chapel, housing development would eliminate parking

Seth Woerhle

A planned housing development near campus could provide a spiritual sanctuary for the religious, much needed apartments for students and some problems for its neighbors.

The Beta Theta Pi fraternity sits in front of the church on University Avenue, and it would lose valuable parking to the building’s proposed landscaping, fraternity president Josh Knutson said.

The University Episcopal Center has partnered with a developer to demolish its old property – as well as an adjacent, former Presbyterian church it purchased – along the northwest corner of 17th Avenue and Fourth Street and build five floors of apartments along with space set aside for the church.

The church would have two-thirds of the building’s ground floor for a chapel, meditation room, kitchen, offices and apartments for students looking for a spiritual community. The upper floors would be open to all students and have no connection with the church.

“We want to have something that can be used by the community at large as an exploration of faith and of different religions in this world,” UEC Executive Director Jean Westberg said, referring to the building’s ground floor.

The UEC, which has been at the location since 1957, entered a three-way partnership with the Wedum Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to student housing and scholarships, and Dunbar Development Corporation, which will construct and finance the project totaling approximately $10 million, Westberg said.

“(The proposed development) eliminates all but two spots total for all of the 32 guys who live (at the fraternity’s house),” said Knutson, a biochemistry senior. “People might not be able to live here and it could end up having a financial impact.”

Knutson said his fraternity, which has been at the same address since the late 1920s, has used the space between its house and the church for decades for parking and as a driveway, providing upkeep such as paving.

The fraternity is prepared to take the matter to court, Knutson said, and has a real estate lawyer (a fraternity alumnus) on retainer.

Westberg refused to comment on the situation and representatives from the Wedum Foundation and Dunbar Development were unavailable at press time.

If the fraternity comes to an agreement with the developers or if its planned injunction is not filed or dismissed, construction would begin in October and the building would open in August.

The building would contain 44 units – 40 four-bedroom and 4 single-bedroom – an exercise room and a separate entrance from the UEC’s 10,000 square feet of the first floor.

The building’s striking design is the result of the balance in creating a religious and secular building at the same time, Noah Bly of the Cuningham Group architecture firm said.

“A big challenge was to create a building that was primarily student housing or rental apartments that also gives a strong definition to the UEC,” Bly said. He also said the building’s brick and cast stone appearance would fit in well with the University area.

“We came up with this tower element on the corner with what we call a ‘crown of thorns’ to indicate the religious purpose on the ground floor without being explicit,” he said.