New Castle -- After nine years trying to get approval for a seminary for 400 priests-in-training on Armonk Road, the Legionaries of Christ have proposed instead to build a center to train 200 missionary women on their 98-acre property.
A Legionaries spokesman said the alternative is intended to address neighbors' concerns while speeding the approval process.
If the new plan isn't approved by January, the Legionaries will revert to the larger seminary plan.
"This does not mean that the seminary plan has been withdrawn," said Jay Dunlap, the communications director for the Legion of Christ, as it is also known.
The Legion, a conservative Catholic order, was founded in Mexico in 1941.
While it has been creeping through the approval process in New Castle, the Legion of Christ has also been working on much higher-profile plans in Mount Pleasant to build a 3,000-student liberal arts university on land formerly owned by IBM. The plans have been controversial with neighbors in Thornwood who fear traffic congestion and other impacts.
The order has also been in a legal fight with Mount Pleasant over the tax status of its property there.
In New Castle, the Legion's plans for a new campus for 460 seminarians, faculty and staff have also worried neighbors. And the smaller alternative hasn't won them over.
Sharon Greene, who has lived next door to the Legion's property since 1988, pointed out that the area is zoned 2-acre residential.
She is concerned about the look of the new buildings, lighting at night, traffic and impacts on neighbors' wells. She also said the January deadline may not leave enough time for a serious environmental review of the alternative plan.
"They're trying to pressure the board into getting approval for this in a three-month time period," Greene said.
The property is now used for some seminary functions and as a retreat center, Dunlap said. Under the latest plan, it would become a formation center for consecrated women of Regnum Christi. The consecrated women are lay women who dedicate themselves full time to missionary work. At the formation center they would undergo four years of full-time study. Regnum Christi is a predominantly lay movement affiliated with the Legion.
The Legion bought the old estate, which once belonged to Billy Rose, a theater producer and songwriter, from the Unification Church in 1994.
Before that it was owned by the Sisters of the Cenacle. The existing buildings at 773 Armonk Road - the old mansion, living quarters built by the sisters and a chapel - total about 70,000 square feet of space. The seminary plan would have added about 315,000 square feet in a dormitory, recreation building, classrooms and other buildings at a cost of $50 million to $70 million.
The alternative plan would add 105,000 square feet of buildings for about 220 students, faculty and staff, Dunlap said.
"It still seems way out of context with the size of the existing homes here," said Steve Krongard, another neighbor, who has lived there since about 1996.
Dunlap said the Legion looks at its needs globally and the New Castle property is only one piece of the worldwide puzzle.
"We're a growing international organization," Dunlap said. "What we build and what we do here in the U.S. impacts our plans and centers around the world."