Religious site workshop draws crowd

By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Editor
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There was a full house at last week’s Planning Commission priory workshop. The Regina Caeli Priory project is the only large, active project on the commission’s plate and has garnered much of their attention over the last year. The workshop, held at the Loomis Train Depot on Jan. 18, was anticipated to be the final informational meeting before the commission is to vote on the project at their Feb. 7 meeting. John Griffin spoke on behalf of the project and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Griffin answered questions on issues raised by the commissioners and said approximately 75 sisters will live at the priory year-round, with another 25 living out on missions and returning a few times a year. Griffin said the 134,000-square-foot facility, on 40 acres has a footprint of four percent coverage of the property and was “designed the most efficiently for monastic life.” He said the sisters will live, work and go to school and church in the building, which is why the size is needed. During the workshop, representatives from the architectural design firm, the company that conducted the traffic study, the town’s tree arborist and the grading company addressed issues raised by planning commissioners. One of the issues facing the development is the loss of 199 trees that will be cut down. The sisters have proposed to plant 400 new trees on the property, but will still have to pay $662,000 for tree mitigation. During the workshop, Loomis Town Councilman Miguel Ucovich spoke during public comment and said, while he realizes the town’s tree ordinance does not allow for a deal to be made, he would like to see the town get an agricultural easement for the strawberry field on the property so that it would remain in agriculture. He said the town could then pay the sisters for it. “If we want to maintain rural Loomis, it is better to get easement rights instead of purchasing it outright,” Ucovich said. The sisters had already said they planned to keep the strawberry patch and allow it to be farmed. Sonja Cupler, of Loomis, asked Griffin if he thought the project would be considered sustainable. Griffin responded, “Seventy-five people that live, work and pray in the same location is sustainable. It’s an extremely efficient way to live.” Fr. Matthew Spencer, who lives at the Joseph Marello Center on Wells Ave., said, “The sisters have a lifestyle that is complimentary to what we want in Loomis. Their lifestyle is one of simplicity.” Vicki Morris, owner of Secret Ravine Winery, told commissioners she found the sisters to be “a delightful group of ladies” who have “given into a number of your requests. Now it’s your turn.” Russ Kelley, former town councilman, said the sisters “live a very frugal lifestyle” and would be “a great addition to the community.” Tom Millward, also a former councilman, said, “It sounds like the sisters have gone through everything you want. They’ve done everything they can to please you.” Millward also said that the sisters do need fencing. “I was a police officer for 30 years and you need fences. There’s just ladies out there. No men.” Irene Smith said “overall, it’s a good project,” and she would like to see the strawberry patch preserved. Her husband, Roger, asked that the trees not be removed until building permits are issued and the cumulative impact on the area should be looked at PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING What: Vote on Regina Caeli Priory When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 7 Where: Loomis Train Depot Information: 652-1840 with other projects proposed in the area.