Grace Life Church suffers setback in plan to develop 50 acres in Monroeville |

Grace Life Church suffers setback in plan to develop 50 acres in Monroeville

Dillon Carr
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Grace Life Church is looking to develop land near its building along Route 22 in Monroeville.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Trailer homes behind the Grace Life Church along Route 22 in Monroeville.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Tribune-Review
Pastors Amy and Bruce Schafer of Grace Life Church at work in the office of the Monroeville church.

Monroeville’s Grace Life Church has grand development plans for its congregants and the community.

The possibility of those plans moving forward, however, got less likely recently with the Monroeville planning commission’s recommendation against allowing rezoning of roughly 50 acres of hilly, wooded land so Grace Life can build an estimated $5 million commercial development that would include a church building, private club, ice rink, zip lines and a ropes course.

Commissioner Georgiana Woodhall said developing the property would not align with Monroeville’s comprehensive plan from 2005.

“This property is zoned conservancy for a reason,” Woodhall said.

Monroeville council will have a public hearing on the zoning request Thursday. It is expected to consider the zoning changes from conservancy and residential to business commercial at a Tuesday meeting.

The church bought the property in 2015 for $375,000, according to Allegheny County records. It is next to a former furniture warehouse at 4761 William Penn Highway that was donated to the church, remodeled and has served as the worship center for its roughly 2,000 congregants since 2013.

Although the 50 acres are mostly undeveloped, the property includes a mobile home park, as well as a Peace, Love and Little Donuts business the church opened in 2016.

Pastor Bruce “Buck” Schafer calls Grace Life a “marketplace ministry,” meaning it uses the businesses to support the nondenominational church. He is appealing the county’s decision to deny the church’s request for tax exemption on the property.

“We want people to give to the church, but we don’t pressure them,” Schafer said. “We train leaders, employ people and the profits come back to the ministry.”

Despite the unfavorable vote from the planning commission, Schafer remains confident about the church’s development project.

“It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. We’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Schafer said the church has no plans to move the 16 mobile homes on its property along Brookside Drive when the project gets under way, but some residents at the park aren’t so sure.

“I wouldn’t put it past them to try to get us out of here,” said Rosalie Crise, who has been a tenant since 2008.

Linda Emerick fears the worst. She’s lived there since 1990.

“When they first took over, we could do no wrong and they were all very kind and generous,” Emerick said. “It sounds cold, but I really believe it: I could be standing out in the street and Pastor Buck could come by in his truck and I wouldn’t even get a honk or a wave.”

Schafer doesn’t understand what is generating that kind of criticism. He said the church provides free property maintenance, such as grass cutting and trimming, and recently financed $150,000 worth of improvements to water pipes leading to the trailers.

“We’ve done nothing but make life better for them,” he said.

But Emerick, 68, said a $20 rent increase in June and hikes in fees for water service tell a different story.

“I think they’re trying to nickel and dime us until we leave,” she said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.