A plan to expand the 60-year-old Sts. Kosmas & Damianos Greek Orthodox Church in downtown Rochester would upgrade the structure and combine six small lots into one unified lot.
The proposed additions include a new kitchen, fellowship hall, bathroom facilities, classrooms and storage space. Additionally, the church is proposing to increase landscaping and add parking.
Chairman of the church building committee, Timothy Kelly, said he believes the fellowship hall, which is the old church nave, is no longer useful.
"This is the opportune time to invest in our future," Kelly said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission discussed the church's plan during a public hearing on Wednesday night and issued a continuance for further discussion in February.
The first gathering of Greek immigrants to establish an Orthodox Church in Rochester began in 1947. In 1948, the archdiocese assigned the group its first spiritual leader, and the first Mass was celebrated in the American-Hellenic Educational Progressive Association Hall in downtown Rochester.
Communities in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin combined, and the parish grew enough for them to construct a house of worship in 1954. Five years later, the church added the prominent, domed structure seen on West Center Street.
The parish is embarking on another construction project — demolishing the old church building on the east side of the site and a garage structure on the west — in order to construct two new additions, as well as add parking.
The expansion will allow for activities and events, such as wedding receptions and funeral luncheons, to be held at the church rather than rented local venues.
Rochester planner Eric Wojchik said, the expansion would greatly benefit the church and its parishioners.
"The expansion will allow for larger events to occur at the church and allows for classroom space for educational purposes related to the church," he said. "The expansion will also increase the parking provision at the church."
Additionally, the expansion will unify the church's property, which is made up of multiple plots of land.
"The applicant intends to re-plat the six lots owned by the Greek Orthodox Church into a single lot, which will include two dwellings currently used for semi-transient accommodation," Wojchik said.
The project does come with complications. The church is requesting four variances, or exceptions from land use rules, in order to compensate for the small lots that make up the oddly shaped property.
The variances include property setbacks to the south and east plot lines, a landscaping provision and requirements for multiple buildings on a lot.
Still, Kelly said the project will be beneficial to the Rochester community.
"We are anticipating a smooth operational transition in dialogue with the city officials because we are replacing a 60-year-old ailing structure and, in doing so, we are improving the aesthetics of the entire church compound," he said. "The Byzantine architecture of the church is certainly unique and beautiful, which will be complemented by the new structures."
The Sts. Kosmas & Damianos congregation has about 100 families, and church officials anticipate additional growth in the coming years. As the only church of its kind in the city, expansion seems to be the next step.
"We are currently the only Eastern Orthodox Church in Rochester and, therefore, project a wide based pan-Orthodox identity that is welcoming to all; both Orthodox from the various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as those who have embraced Christian Orthodoxy from other traditions," Kelly said.