SALEM- A mission group ministering to the city's Hispanic population gained approval Monday to use the upper floors of a now vacant building for residential purposes, pending compliance with state rules.
The Salem Board of Zoning Appeals granted the conditional use requested by Christians With a Mission for its future headquarters at 184 S. Broadway Ave., which includes an existing three-story structure and parking lot at the northeast corner of Broadway and Pershing.
Rev. Hery Salamanca, who's more commonly known as Pastor Eric in the Salem community, talked briefly about the project to board members, who had already received a detailed packet of information about plans for the building and about the ministry.
According to the document, plans call for using the first floor for a training, counseling and meeting area. Salamanca described it as a multi-purpose office where children could receive tutoring after school and have access to a computer lab and adults could receive assistance with paperwork. English as a second language classes will be offered, along with individual and group Bible study.
The second floor plans include recreation, music instruction and a Sunday worship center. Plans for the third floor include temporary housing for visiting mission teams coming to work in the community and for women and children needing emergency temporary shelter due to a domestic violence situation.
Salamanca, who hails from Colombia, has been sponsored by the First Christian Church in Salem to work with what he called a growing Hispanic population. For the past three years he's been serving as an interpreter for the Hispanic people with emergency medical or legal issues, lending his skills as an interpreter at the Columbiana County jail, the courts and at the schools. He conducts Bible studies, after school tutoring sessions, mentors the men and counsels the married couples, all within the Hispanic community.
He said that he and others who work with the Hispanic people have estimated the population in Salem as 1,300, explaining that most are seasonal workers. He said the majority come from Guatemala, with some from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.
Housing and Zoning Officer Patrick Morrissey explained that the board has granted conditional use for residential on the upper floors of commercial buildings as long as the buildings are brought up to current commercial standards, which would be regulated through the state. He stressed that all the city can do is look at the use. The state is the one that decides everything else, including Change of Use for a building.
He said that will be the next step for the group, to get a Change of Use from the state. He also suggested to Salamanca and John Harper Jr., a member of Greenford Christian Church who's also working on the project, to get a professional architect to help them with the plans because they will know what they need to satisfy the state and what they don't have to do for an older building.
Board member Tim Baillie said the state building inspector can also be a resource.
Dan Bricker, a new member of the board, asked what kind of precedent they would be setting for the rest of the city if they grant the request, but member Harry Conn said they're not setting any kind of precedent - they're just granting a conditional use pending approval of the state for that building.
"We want to do everything right," Salamanca said.
The building is actually owned by a local business owner, Mike Weikart, who bought the property at auction last year for $20,900 and plans to donate it to Christians With a Mission. He and his family are currently doing mission work in Guatemala at an orphanage.
The ministry is relying on donations from area churches and individuals, including volunteer labor with certification in plumbing, electrical and other skills, and assistance from local businesses to get the work done over the span of the next few years. Besides the work on the inside, work will be done on the outside to repair the wall next to the parking lot and fix the roof.
The name of the building will be City of Hope, a Ministry of Christians With a Mission.
Members of the board wished Salamanca and Harper good luck with the project and said it's something that's needed in the community. Board member John Panezott said he's familiar with Salamanca's work and said the project has the support of churches in the community.
In other business, Board Chairman Mark Pietrzak was renamed chairman, with Panezott named vice chairman and Tim Baillie named secretary.