Home Page

Church appeals 'unreasonable, erroneous' Planning Commission denial of expansion plan

       Denied by the City Planning Commission, Calvary Worship Center is taking its proposal for a major expansion to City Council.
       Mike Schultz, the city planner assigned to the matter, said the church off King and 30th streets filed a formal appeal after the 7-0 commission vote Oct. 16.
       At that meeting, the commission members, who are appointed to their posts, sided with neighborhood opponents about potential intrusiveness and even geological hazards in the church's plan for two building demolitions along with two additions totaling about 70,000 square feet and the creation of about 150 new parking spaces.
       While complimenting Calvary for a “Herculean effort to make this fit,” commission member/meeting chair Robert Shonkwiler compared the expansion to “what I try to do every morning - fit into a pair of jeans that's too small.” He also cited the city's Comprehensive Plan, saying the proposal did not “meet the compatibility issue” in terms of neighborhoods.
       A date for council to hear the matter has not been determined. Schultz said it might not be until December.
       The six-page appeal, signed by Calvary Senior Pastor Al Pittman, alleges that the
A view east from the existing Calvary Worship Center parking lot shows Willamette Avenue (paved), the hillside just north of it and the residential enclave at the top of the hill near King Street. Most of Calvary's proposed new parking area would be on the north side of Willamette, at the base of the hill, with retaining walls to support it in front and back.
Westside Pioneer photo
Planning Commission decision was “unreasonable… erroneous and based on misleading, irrelevant and factually inaccurate data and assumptions.”
       Included under the appeal's “specific areas of concern” is the assertion that the commission's action reflects “disparate treatment of the church based on its proposed religious uses of the property.”
       Church officials declined an interview request with the Westside Pioneer after the commmission meeting, but Schultz said he spoke with the applicant when the appeal was filed. He elaborated that even if the appeal fails at council, the action fulfills a necessary due-diligence step “if they [the church] wanted to file a civil case.”
       He noted that a previous court case in Boulder County involved the denial of a church expansion. “Some municipalities treat churches differently,” Schultz said.
       Calvary has been at its location since 1998, initially converting an old supermarket into a church facility, then building a new worship center in 2007. The new plan, driven by a fast-growing congregation, consists of building and parking work on the currently developed 5½ acres and adding parking east of there on 3 acres of vacant, church-owned land at the base of a hill in an older neighborhood north of Uintah Street. The project would include a new worship center, which, at 1,780 seats, would be over twice the size of the '07 facility.
       The main crunch of traffic and parking is on Sundays. Currently, this is felt by the neighborhood in terms of traffic at each of three services and people parking in front of houses on nearby King and Castle streets. Haddon explained to the commission that the expansion would reduce this impact because there would be only two services (allowable because of a larger worship center) and probably less on-street parking (because the new center would be farther south on the property from King Street).
       Schultz had recommended approval to the Planning Commission. His written review describes the proposal as in keeping with city requirements, including - in contrast to comments by Shonkwiler (as well as fellow commission member Jeffrey Markewich) - the city's Comprehensive Plan. The review specifically states this opinion in terms of the plan's objectives for infill and redevelopment in neighborhood areas.
       The Calvary request to the city is for a zone change to make the entire church property planned unit development (PUD - a type of zone that can be tailored to a particular site's needs). The property now has two zones (Planned Business Center in the developed area and R-2/cr (two-family residential with conditions of record) in the undeveloped area being eyed for parking.
       The church submittal also requests approval of a development plan that outlines its expansion plan strategy and how the work would occur in three phases over about five years.
       The commission voted 7-0 in disapproval on both the zone change and development plan.
       At the meeting, three people from the neighborhood spoke in opposition, with the main presentation by Larry Hudson. An architect himself, he lives in a residential
In a scene from the Oct. 16 Planning Commission discusson on the Calvary Worship Center expansion proposal, neighborhood spokesperson Larry Hudson addresses the commission. Listening from the audience (front to back) are Greg Haddon, Calvary's architect; Joel Beck, a board member of the Organization of Westside Neighbors; Nate Dowden, with RMG Engineering (which did the project geology study); and Jeff Hodsdon, with LSC Transportation Consultants (which did the project's traffic study).
Westside Pioneer photo - screen capture from Springs TV meeting coverage
enclave at the top of the hill, south of King Street. The proposed church parking area is at the base of the hill, on the north side of Willamette Avenue (and part way down adjoining Wilhelmia Avenue), across the street from existing houses.
       Hudson had also led successful neighborhood opposition to a development effort in the same basic location in 2006, when 12 townhomes were proposed by the property's previous owner. At that time, City Council overruled a Planning Commission vote in favor of the townhomes. A potentially slipping hillside was a concern of Hudson's then - previous sloughing has even cost him $40,000 on his own property, he told the commission - and “this is the same problem.”
       Calvary's plan to mitigate the parking lot's hillside impact with crib-lock retaining walls was designed by consultant RMG Engineering with the OK of the Colorado Geologic Survey, but Hudson offered his doubts, additionally opining that there are better and prettier wall types. If the plan was to go forward, he challenged the church “to formally accept the drainage” that comes down from his neighborhood.
       During his meeting rebuttal opportunity, Calvary project architect Greg Haddon responded that “it was a bit hypocritical that they [Hudson and other neighbors] want us to accept their flows.” He also pointed to the finding in the RMG study that “our project will improve the stability” of the hillside.
       Hudson additionally decried the overall size of the expansion, charging that the church's privately contracted studies to assess the impacts on neighborhood parking, traffic and drainage underestimated those problems. He further professed disappointment that the hill itself had never been made a hillside overlay zone (which would have increased its development regulations).
       Commission members had similar criticisms. Chuck Donley feared that the new buildings - designed for the south end of the property to help solve the problem with current, excessive on-street parking at the north end - would “loom over” the neighborhood to the south. He and others also didn't like it that access to the planned new parking lot would require people to drive up Wilhelmia (a residential street) off Uintah.
       Especially echoing Hudson/neighborhood speaker points were commission members John Henninger, who said he'd like more information about the homes on top of the hill; Markewich, lamenting the lack of a hillside overlay zone; and Carl Smith, questioning the capabilities of the stormwater detention pond defined in the drainage study and the attractiveness of the crib-lock wall.
       Three members (Shonkwiler, Donley and Ray Walkowski) suggested that there were so many problems with the expansion that the church ought to find another location. “In the end, you may be glad you didn't build there,” Walkowski commented.
       Haddon said the church did look around. However, he told Shonkwiler, “this feels like the place where we should be.”
       Schultz, when asked afterward if he thought the commission had been influenced by Hudson's presentation, replied, “Larry has an archictectural background, and he's well spoken. I think that helped."
       One neighborhood group did speak in favor of the Calvary plan at the meeting. Joel Beck, a board member of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN),
A site map (part of the packet that was presented to City Planning Commission) shows the boundaries of the Calvary Worship Center property, which is proposed for a major expansion project, and the mostly developed neighborhood around it.
Courtesy of Colorado Springs Land Use Review
the city-recognized neighborhood advocacy group for the older Westside, said that OWN believed a viable plan had emerged after "a lot of give and take" (several neighborhood meetings over the past half-year).
       Pittman's appeal takes the Planning Commission to task on a point-by-point basis. These points appear below, followed by explanatory quotes, extracted from the appeal document:
       - Zone change: “[The denial] was unreasonable… because the proposed zone change will result in identical building standards as those currently existing.”
       - Density concerns: “The existing PBC zone does not contain ground area coverage use restrictions, which means that the Planning Commission's determination regarding the same was not based on a measurable standard. Even if the church were asked to agree to a ground area restriction, the current proposal, as noted on the first page of the church's development plan would result in a structure lot coverage area ratio equal to 14.2 percent of the total footprint, well within the guidelines and character of the existing neighborhood."
       - Geohazard concerns: “The church objects to the Planning Commission's apparent reliance on factually irrelevant materials presented by opposition at the Oct. 16 meeting. Opposing neighbors presented photographs of individual property problems resulting from their own individual foundation problems, which are unrelated to and do not necessarily adjoin the parcels at issue in the church's development plan. The church also objects to the Planning Commission's assertions that the property should be treated as though it were designated in a hillside overlay zone. The property is not so included, and therefore an impact analysis with the standards and development requirements of hillside overlay property do not apply to the church.”
       - Retaining wall aesthetics and function: “The church has proposed, and [city] staff has recommended approval of, mitigating measures both to improve overall aesthetics (including irrigated vegetative coverage) while maintaining safety. The proposed crib-lock design, with its open cells, will best prevent raised concerns regarding 'freeze-thaw' cycles because the open face/cellular design will allow groundwater to escape without expanding during a freeze into damaging cracks. The gravity-type wall design proposed by the church is also superior in stability and overall risk impact as it may be installed with shallower cuts into the existing slope required than alternative installation suggestions. It was also the design recommended in the church's geotechnical analysis.”
       - Stormwater drainage: “The church's proposed additions will not only address excess stormwater runoff caused by its development, arguably, it will improve existing conditions by installing a retention pond and 'rain garden' that will result in a more even flow of stormwater and prevent sedimentation and buildup along Willamette and Wilhelmia avenues. Indeed, the installation of a retention pond will decrease sedimentary outflow and better regulate flow volumes onto existing downflow areas than will current conditions.”
       - Parking and traffic: “The [city] code requires that religious land use maintain a ratio of one parking space to every four seats, a ratio met in the current development plan… This is consistent with a number of similar uses that entertain sporadic, high-volume parking such as public assembly halls, semi-public community recreation centers, funeral services, stadiums or sports arenas and theaters…The proposed development meets this standard. The City Traffic Engineering department requested that a traffic management plan be provided at the time of Phase 3, which the church has accepted.”
       - Religious use: “The church further requests that the City Council reverse the Planning Commission's denial in light of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)… The Planning Commission's rejection of the church's proposed development plan will, unless corrected, substantially burden its religious exercise. That decision is therefore subject to strict scrutiny under RLUIPA, the most demanding level of scrutiny applied to government actions. RLUIPA also makes it illegal for the city to 'impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats' the church 'on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.'”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 11/2/14; Land: Development Proposals)

Would you like to respond to this article? The Westside Pioneer welcomes letters at editor@westsidepioneer.com. (Click here for letter-writing criteria.)