The Woodlands, TX (KTRK) --The massive expansion project at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands has all but wiped out the woods that attracted the people to a neighborhood right next door.
The church is not breaking any rules. But the neighbors say those rules need to be changed, and they expected more from the church.
Looking at a before picture from Google Earth of the backside of St. Anthony of Padua, one can see plenty of trees.
"Before, I couldn't even see the building," said Tommaso Esmanech.
"From where my house is, we had the majority of the greenery," added Denis Carmichael. "And that's where the sports field is now going to go in."
Both men moved with their families from California to The Woodlands because of the woods. Today, most of those trees between the church and their homes in the Laurelhurst area of the Alden Bridge subdivision are gone.
Carmichael showed us the construction zone that he sees from his upstairs window.
"We come home every day and this is what we're looking at. We didn't pay for this," Carmichael said.
"Every morning I would get up and look out my family room and see a beautiful forest," added Leela Duncan. "Now I'm looking at the sanctuary and the food pantry."
The group of neighbors are mad about what the church's expansion is turning the view from their homes into. They have also put signs critical of the church on their gates.
Tommaso Esmanech says he suggested to the church that it redesign the new parking lot to create more spots and save trees, and add more greenery.
"I even asked the architect 'have you done an analogy from our perspective of what it's going to look like?' And that question was never answered," he tells us.
According to minutes from a July meeting of The Woodlands Township Development Standards Committee, staff approved the church's plans and says those plans are within the Township rules.
In a statement, Father Tom Rafferty says:
"I assure you that we desire to be good neighbors, and that our Master Plan meets, and in some areas, exceeds, all the regulations and requirements of our township governing board... A major element of the Master Plan is a creative harmony between new construction and nature. An example of this is that a significant portion of our resources have been allocated to reforest and to build an 8-foot fence along the length of our property and the drainage ditch."
"The problem is it takes time. I'm not going to see my forest for 10 years," Duncan said.
"There is definitely more they could do," added Esmanech. "They have the money to do it. It's just a matter of will."
The group wants to see the rules that allowed the church to cut all these trees down in the first place changed. They're planning to protest outside the church Sunday morning.
Here is the entire statement from the church:
For a number of years the members of St. Anthony's have been discerning God's will as we identify and address the needs of our faithful, especially those who will join us in the future. We have developed a Master Plan which will address present and future needs. We've shared that Master Plan with you and the greater community of The Woodlands over the past two years. I assure you that we desire to be good neighbors, and that our Master Plan meets, and in some areas, exceeds, all the regulations and requirements of our township governing board.
A major element of the Master Plan is a creative harmony between new construction and nature. An example of this is that a significant portion of our resources have been allocated to reforest and to build an 8-foot fence along the length of our property and the drainage ditch.
I am excited about St. Anthony's increasing ability to reach out to the heart of The Woodlands as we strive to make known the truth of the love that God has for all. I want to continue the vision of George Mitchell where churches provided a strong spiritual foundation for our community. As Holy Father, Pope Francis, has said, "I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord." (Apostolic Exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel") I look forward to partnering with you in sharing the invitation to encounter Jesus Christ, both now and in years to come, with all the people of our beloved home of The Woodlands.
Sincerely in Christ,
Father Tom Rafferty