City Council reverses Planning Commission denial of Westside church's major expansion plan
The issue involves a zone change and development plan by Calvary Worship Center. Council's action, which overrules the commission, allows the church to move forward with a major expansion on its 5½ acre property off King and 30th streets.
Convinced by residents' complaints, the commission consensus had been that the Calvary plan was too big for the neighborhood, especially in terms of traffic and parking. Its vote in October was 7-0 (two members absent).
However, City Council saw the proposal differently after a 2 ½-hour hearing that (like Planning Commission) also took testimony from both sides. Several councilmembers praised Calvary for its previous upgrades to the site - which includes a one-time Safeway store - and the consensus was that the new project will be beneficial in terms of putting vacant land to productive use, stabilizing a hillside with historic sloughing issues, controlling hillside drainage and addressing the church's current problem in which dozens of church-goers park on neighboring streets. The council vote was 8-0 (one member absent).
“If it wasn't for this church, the old Safeway building and the area around it would be an urban renewal site,” commented Councilmember Merv Bennett, who made the motion for reversal. Referring to the proposal as “classic infill,” he said “the church has been an incredible steward of the property and an incredible neighbor. It [the project] is going to resolve some significant issues."
Calvary has been at its location since 1998, initially converting the Safeway into a church, then building a new worship center beside it in 2007. The three-phase project, expected to need at least five years for completion, will include two building demolitions, two additions totalling about 70,000 square feet and an increase in the off-street parking from 302 to 446 spaces.
The additions will consist of a new worship center that can seat 1,780 people (compared with 753 now) and a new youth ministries center. The current worship
The demolitions will take out the old Safeway, which now serves as the youth center (the new worship center will be built in its approximate location), and remove a small commercial building on the northwest side of the property (making room for more parking).
In neighborhood meetings starting in early 2014 and then at Planning Commission and council, the main bone of contention with residents has been where Calvary chose to put much of the added parking. A new lot will be built on vacant church property at the base of the previously mentioned hill, which is just above an older neighborhood off Uintah Street. To access the lot, church congregants will need to turn off Uintah onto Wilhelmia, a neighborhood street; the lot itself will be across the street from existing homes.
The residents' main speaker, Larry Hudson, a long-time area architect, told both Planning Commission and council that the lot would fail to solve the church's increased parking needs. He also disagreed with consultants and/or city staff about the probable project results, primarily regarding traffic, parking-lot lighting, a parking-lot retaining wall, hillside stability and drainage from the hill/lot.
On the hiillside issue, Hudson's concerns put him at odds not only with Calvary's hired consultant, RMG Engineers, but with the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS). A CGS engineer wrote that "off-street parking at the toe of the slope is the best and most appropriate land use for this problematic parcel." The CGS is a state-funded agency authorized to review various types of developments that could involve potential geologic hazards.
After the council action, Calvary Pastor Al Pittman told the Westside Pioneer he was “pleased that they [councilmembers] voted the way they did after looking at the facts.”
He predicted that Phase 1 construction (the new parking lot) would likely start this year. A schedule is still in the works.
The council vote approves a zoning change and development plan that allows the lot to be built as the church proposed it (the rest of the project as well). But actual building plans, including the engineering of the lot's retaining wall, will require Regional Building Department approval, councilmembers noted. Similarly, when the new sanctuary with increased seating is built in Phase 3, the city will require a traffic plan for Sundays that could necessitate off-duty police before and after services, City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager said.
In siding with the residents, Planning Commission members had evidently been “more subjective than objective,” Councilmember Don Knight summarized in his meeting comments. Even though his “initial inclinations are to lean with the neighbors,” especially when it's in his district (District 1), he said he couldn't vote against the church's plan because it meets city standards.
For example, he observed, with 446 spaces and 1,780 parishioner seats, the church's parking plan meets the city's requirement to have one parking space for every four seats - albeit by just one space.
Councilmember Val Snider echoed the “classic infill” sentiment, pointing out that “the strategic plan for this council is to encourage infill. We had made it a part of the record.”
Support of infill was also in the favorable recommendation by Mike Schultz, the city planner assigned to the project, who determined that it adhered to the city's comprehensive plan. His recommendation initially was provided to Planning Commission, but its members placed greater emphasis on another part of the comprehensive plan, which says that developments need to be compatible with existing neighborhoods.
In appealing to council, Pittman wrote a document charging that the commisson had put too much credence in the residents' complaints, some of which he called “factually irrelevant materials.” He even raised the possibility of discrimination (holding a religious institution to higher land-use standards than other entities).
Councilmembers never discussed the discrimination question - at least not publicly - although the church did bring a lawyer who briefly told council about the federal law addressing the subject.
Pittman led off the church's presentation, telling council that Calvary is “a growing fellowship which desires to promote a sense of hope within our community and neighborhood to aid others in becoming productive residents in our society.” After citing a list of outreach efforts, he said, “These acts will be curtailed without the ability to develop our property.”
Westside Pioneer article